Celebrate and Demonstrate #ourNHS

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I thought the best way to celebrate the great institution that is the NHS would be to talk about it from a personal perspective. As a child I suffered from very bad asthma, and much of my childhood was affected by acute episodes, meaning that day to day life was constantly interrupted by long episodes of wheezing and an inability to do very much. I spent far to much time in GP consulting rooms, and Hospital beds. In the mid to late 60s and early 70s the medication seemed pretty ineffective, but I always felt safe. The NHS was there, in all its glory, though slightly tatty round the edges. Towards the end of the 1970s, when i was at the peak of my rebellious teenager stage, along came the Salbutamol inhaler, which changed my life. I could breathe… and prevent acute episodes in their tracks. I took full advantage…

When I was 16, the school I was at decided that this was a perfect age for volunteering, and against my will I was made to go and work in a local care home. I appeared to be the only kid who was. The home i was sent to smelt of stale cigarette smoke, cleaning products and wee. The thought of undressing anyone, washing  and toileting anyone else filled me with horror. I was a 16 year old boy in 1978!

2 weeks later I was offered a job at weekends, which paid a proper salary, not the 58 pence an hour I was paid at the superstore I hated. I worked there for the next 3 years, through 6th form and FE College retakes.

I was going to be an artist, a graphic designer; trouble was that by the time I’d finished my A Levels, I realised I had no talent. I was 19 and my career plan was down the pan. What to do? Take a year off, that what, and as well as travelling, it dawned on me that I enjoyed working, and caring for people, and I seemed to be pretty good at it. Plan B was to apply to be a Physiotherapist, Mental Health Nurse or General Nurse. The first 2 turned me down, but i was accepted for training at Stoke  Mandeville Hospital in June 1982 at the age of 20. I loved it, and still do, but male nurses were as rare as Jeremy Hunt at debates. I’d been told by my Mum that the only men who went into nursing were Queer or ‘unable to do anything else’. I didn’t care. Student Nurses in those days were part of the hospital workforce, working alongside more experienced students and maybe 1 or 2 Qualified staff. It was a very different world; most staff lived in accommodation on site and would meet for drinks in the social club after shifts. Being  a male amongst hundreds of young, mainly female staff had its advantages…

When I was training we were paid a salary, all be a poor one, which did not improve much on Qualification, and months salary usually only lasted 2 weeks of the month, but we got by, as a community. The ward Sister’s were Dragons who ruled their kingdoms with a sharp tongue and discipline. There was task allocation and ashtrays on patient lockers, home cooked food and an alcohol round on a Sunday. I loved it. I learnt all kinds of skills and nursing techniques, working in different environments, including Maternity, Mental Health and the Community teams.

To cut a long story short I Qualified after 3 years of training, and over the next 4 decades, worked in many different Hospitals, including 2 years in the USA, where I travelled extensively, enjoyed a salary 8 x that of the one I earned at home. But I hated the system over there, even then. I met a Welsh couple who’d lived over there for 30 years. They were uninsurable, and though in their 70s, working full time to pay for their medication after 5 MIs and Emphysema.

I worked my way up to Deputy Matron and Senior Nurse for Gastroenterology, Vascular and Emergency Surgery, surely the longest job title ever. I managed hundreds of staff in 3 different teams, and a budget of over £2m. I have worked with fantastic teams, who have worked often in very difficult and challenging circumstances, short of resources and staff, whilst maintaining professionalism and patient safety, and delivering it with a smile. I have met patients and relatives who have inspired me and shamed me, who have shown me again and again how precious life is, and how vital our NHS is. Being able to come to work and do a great job, one that often changes lives, and even sees them end, without having to, at any point, ask for payment, makes working for the NHS unique, and the relationship between staff and our patients a partnership. Any introduction of payment anywhere will destroy that contract.

Nursing has evolved and adapted. It is not the same profession I started 35 years ago. It is better. We are Specialists who teach, treat and prescribe. We have Degrees and Masters. We are Consultants and Nurse Practitioners. We are researchers and Professors.

After many years leading and managing I was made redundant 5 years ago. I was devastated, and relieved. It probably saved my life. The constant stress and the leaking of work into family life was becoming unbearable. So I decided to do something I’d always wanted to see if I could. I became a nurse in A&E. 5 Years later I’m still there, loving it.

2 years ago I got involved in the Bursary or Bust campaign, then the Junior Doctors dispute. I became an activist.

I fight with colleagues and other campaigners the Tory cuts to public services, the defunding of our NHS, and the Sustainability and Transformation Plans that will see the NHS just become a logo on Hunt’s lapel, and Richard Branson’s corporate health centres.

I will continue to fight the loss of the Bursary and free education for NHS staff which has seen a fall of 23% in applications to University, and the loss of our post education budget to pay for Nurse Associates and Apprenticeships that will see our profession become poorly educated cheap(er) labour.

I will fight the pay cap which has seen public sector workers, including Nurses lose 14% in salary leading to 40,000 nursing vacancies nationally, low morale, and staff resorting to payday loans and food banks to survive.

I will fight this Tory Government which tells Nurses ‘There is no magic money tree!’, whilst it is able to bung £1.5bn to the DUP to prop up a weak and wobbly, corrupt Government.

Save our NHS! Tories Out Now!

 

Post Jungle Fever

Post Jungle Fever

November 19th

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Lord Alf Dubbs – SUTR Conference 8th October 2016

Background

Saturday was my third trip to Calais, but this was unlike the others, this was 3 weeks after the destruction of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp, which had been situated on a contaminated former landfill site, near the Eurotunnel and Ferry Port.
From unofficial surveys, done before 24th October this year, it was estimated that there were 9-10,000 refugees and migrants in the camp, some 1500 of whom were children between the ages of 8 and 16; many unaccompanied by adults.
There had been a great effort made by Lord Dubbs, having sponsored an amendment to the Tories’ Immigration Act 2016, to have all unaccompanied children, and those with family ties in the UK identified, rescued and brought to safety. Demonstrations were held locally and Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) held a National Conference to debate and demand action from the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP. Despite the imminent danger to these children the British Govt has only managed to process and rescue 70 thus far. Once the demolition of the camp began on October 24th somewhere between 120 – 400 children disappeared.

Let them in – Rally Oxford 14th October 2016

Over 3 days the French Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS – formed post WW2, originally most were former Communist/Socialist partisans; they were purged after a strike in 1948), who now have a reputation for brutality and racism, removed refugees and migrants from the camp on buses, demolishing, then burning the fragile shelters; bulldozing the remains. The CRS were responsible for the daily, casual lobbing of teargas grenades into the camp, and had often abducted men or boys, taking them to an isolated area where they would be relentlessly beaten by Facists dressed in black. It is worth reminding ourselves that refugees and migrants are not criminals, but people like us, moving from home only because of war or poverty.

Desperate to support the aid effort and to discover for ourselves the situation on the ground, four of us from Oxford C2C (an organisation originally founded to support the Convoy to Calais organised by SUTR and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity on 18th June) collected items of aid requested by Care4Calais (a Charity set up by Clare Mosley in September 2015). This list is renewed weekly, dependant upon the circumstances at the time.
We were able to fill 2 cars with tinned fish, bottled water, toiletries and 140 individual care packages which were donated by NHS staff and a group of Jewish school pupils.
Beginning our journey at 0430h we travelled south and across to France on the Eurotunnel, arriving at the Care4Calais (C4C) warehouse in Bleriot Plage at 0920h. Volunteers were already busy, and helped us to unload our vehicles. There were volunteers of varying ages, experience and background; some there for the weekend, others for a few weeks.

We then gathered around whilst Clare briefed us on the current situation:
‘The camp has closed, but we do not believe that this will change anything long term.The CADA (French Govt reception centres) that they have taken the refugees to are not meant to be a long term solution. What we were told is that they will be able to stay for a 4 week period, during which time they can decide if they want to claim asylum in France. That 4 week period ends this week. What we have seen over the first 3 weeks is a very harsh period…The French Government are committed to keep the refugees off streets of Calais, and in order to do that the police have been militant, picking them up and chucking them in detention centres as fast as they can, because they’ve got to be seen to stand by that… after the 4 week period ends they will deport anyone they can…it feels pretty horrible at the moment it feels like they are criminalising refugees; driving them underground. That’s not morally acceptable; refugees are not criminals. We are in a period of change which is difficult to deal with. People say to us, ‘What is going to happen?’. Well we don’t 100% know. We know what is going to happen long term, because long term it’s not going to change anything, because the reason refugees come to Calais is because they want to get to the UK, but the idea they all want to come to the UK is wrong. There are a massive number of refugees in Europe; there’s a massive number in France. A small proportion come to Calais, and those have a strong reason to get to the UK; This exercise won’t change that. Many [refugees and migrants] have family in the UK, or have worked or been educated in the UK. If anything what we may see is smaller camps springing up further along the coast in Dieppe, or Belgium. Refugees are arriving in Calais every day, either by train or on foot; our job is to intercept them before the police get them. The problem is there are over 1000 of them, whilst there are only 20-30 of us.
The French Government have 2 choices, either they start a new facility in Calais, but if they do that they risk another camp in Calais, which is what they said they did not want. Or they set up smaller detention centres in towns all over France, to intercept people before they get here. Whatever they decide, refugees will continue to make their way here.
As the 4 week decline approaches this week we expect things to become desperate as refugees make the decision to run away from the CADAs, rather than be deported.
This makes it hard for us to answer your questions, to put updates on Facebook; it is hard for us to motivate people. I don’t want us to appear disorganised or not focused. We are focused, we are focused on helping refugees in any way we can.’

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Clare Mosley (centre)

Jobs were then assigned, 2 girls who spoke Kurmanji and Arabic were sent to a detention centre, to give moral support to a group of Syrian men on hunger strike; some were sent over to Dunkerque, to take supplies and review the situation there. Others called mobiles to provide vital credit top ups, or sorted clothing and food packages. I volunteered to be driver for 2 more experienced volunteers checking and collecting from the local train station.

On the way we detoured to check the site of the ‘Jungle’ for anyone camping out there I was eager to see what was left of the camp I’d visited in August, and anxious about finding young men hiding out in ditches or scrub. What would their reaction to me be?
Driving up, under the motorway flyover, was strange. Before the place was bustling with human traffic, in and out of camp; some men had been playing cricket, and there was noise. Now there was silence and a white CRS van full of Police, looking bored. We split up, and I followed the route I had taken through the camp in the Summer, except it was completely different. Detritus squashed into the sand everywhere i went; shoes, toothpaste tubes, bits of plastic, a bicycle and clothing. The atmosphere felt heavy and full of ghosts.

Whilst I wandered the police van would occasionally drive slowly past; I ignored it. I discovered later that the young filmmaker I was working with had been stopped and questioned. She was told to leave, but didn’t.
One thought that kept going through my head was that however awful the camp had been, it was a community, it had a vibrancy, it had a school and restaurants. It had life and hope. It made it possible for charities to concentrate on one site.

The Train Station
We left and drove to the small Calais train station in the centre of town, to be met be a Syrian volunteer who had found 3 boys getting off a train. They were 15 and 16 years old, and when he brought them out they looked scared. They were Eritrean. We stood outside talking to each other and these boys, while about 20 CRS sat in vans or wandered around in pairs. The atmosphere was tense and oppressive. I was sure we stuck out, and waited to be approached, or pounced on, but it didn’t happen. We walked out of sight and continued the conversation. Phone calls were made to the warehouse. One of the boys, Simon (15) wanted to go to a reception centre, the other 2 back to the station to take their chances on a train to Paris. They wanted to go on to Switzerland (though I never discovered why). We were going by another 2 Eritreans, another 16 year old and a man in his late 20s; he had travelled from Norway (where he had been welcomed and given permanent residency for the past 4 years) looking for his sister who was in Calais yesterday. Her phone was now out of credit. He only had until the following day to find her as he had to be back at work on Monday.
I collected my car and drove them , in two groups, around the one way system, past the Police, to ‘The Family Pub’ whose owner was sympathetic, and a place frequented by the volunteers on their time off. There we continued our conversations. The three 16 year olds were adamant about catching another train, so i drove them back, past the Police, dropped them off, and wished them luck. I was amazed that my car had not raised suspicion, and was not pulled over.
On my return to the pub i was told that our friends’ sister may have been picked up and taken to the reception centre we were taking Simon to. I discovered from Simon that he spoke 4 languages (his English was excellent), and had walked From Eritrea through Sudan and Egypt, to Libya. There, he had joined 300 others in a wooden boat and sailed to Italy. He had been an assistant Chef, and he had an Aunty in the UK; he didn’t know where, but he had a phone number.
We set off to take them both to St Omer (42 miles away), driving through torrential rain and Police diversions, arriving whilst it was still light. We were introduced to the Manager of the centre who appeared kind; she explained to Simon that she would sit down with him later and explain his options fully, so that he could decide what he wanted to do. He would have a bed and food and other young men in the same situation to talk to.

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She did tell us that he would have 5 days in which to decide to apply for asylum, and where he would want to apply. If he chose not to, he would be deported, but if he chose to leave the centre beforehand, he was free to do so. The young man called Mebrahtu was told there were no girls in the centre and that there had never been. This was really upsetting because of the limited time he had, and the assurances given earlier that the girls were here. The manager explained that she would email us contact numbers for other centres in the area and charities working with refugees, which he could use to try to trace his sister.
We made our goodbyes and left with Mebrahtu, beginning our journey back through the countryside, in the dark, and lashing rain.
After dropping everyone off I joined my comrades to discuss our different days and what we had seen and learnt. Driving home was a time to reflect and process everything.

One thing is evident, especially with the rise of the right across Europe and America. We have to continue to fight racism anywhere and everywhere; we have to educate and demonstrate, whatever the obstacles and frustrations. We have to stay motivated and focused on helping refugees and migrants in any way we can.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/18/refugees-calais-friends-need-help

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/02/calais-refugee-children-evacuated-as-camp-clearance-winds-up

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/calais-jungle-child-refugees-age-controversy-dubs-amendment-unaccompanied-minors-migrants-a7376151.html

https://wordpress.com/post/dmbpolitics.wordpress.com/150

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Our NHS – Not for Sale!

Our NHS – Not for Sale!

It is becoming increasingly impossible for the NHS to recruit and retain staff, particularly in the Thames Valley and South East of England, mostly due to the cost of housing, cost of living and six years of pay restraint. Oxford is now the most expensive city to live in, with Housing costing 11.5 times the average salary.

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Prior to 2017, Nursing student places were paid for by NHS England; the number of places purchased was part of workforce planning within the NHS and would vary from year to year, but averaged 20,000 per annum. Despite this, the NHS is still short of 28,000 trained nurses. The Secretary of State for Health no longer has responsibility for workforce planning and the number of NHS staff (paramedics, radiographers, speech therapists, nurses etc.) trained will be dependant on those offered by the universities. Governments have previously not charged NHS students because they were seen as a public resource, and their vocation a benefit to society.
Student nurses work for 48 weeks a year (6 weeks more than other students), with most of that time on placement, gaining the practical skills they will need in the future. As of next year student nurses, studying at any of our English Universities for 3 years, will no longer be able to apply for bursaries to support them during their training; but will now have to pay £9000 a year in loans to the University, they will have to pay to work on placement (predicted to be £1000 per annum). Some will be able to get means-tested grants, but most will need to take out maintenance loans averaging £3000 a year. They will also be paying between 4.6% interest on all these loans. The new threshold for repaying student loans is now £21,000, meaning that a newly qualified nurse, who will earn a starting salary of £21,909, will immediately begin repayment.
Once having qualified and gained a job, with a take home salary of about £1,660 pm, nurses will be paying an average £1,035 in rent (forget about buying).
Nursing salaries, and those for other NHS workers, have stagnated since 2010 whilst the cost of living has significantly increased, meaning they are worth at least 15% less than they were. NHS Trusts cannot recruit and retain staff who cannot afford to live in expensive housing, and who move away to more affordable areas, or better paid jobs. This has to change.
Another issue which forces nurses to leave the profession is safe staffing. All nurses are bound by the NMC code which states that nurses ‘must promote safe and effective practice’ whilst they are often faced with working on wards, and in areas, where they are expected to routinely care for too many patients, with too high acuity (where the care is complicated and intensive). After the scandal at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, where financial cuts had led to a severe reduction in clinical staff which led to a reduction in the standards of, and lack of care, leading to the unneccessary deaths of patients. The blame was laid at the feet of nurses, with little responsibility taken by the system. Lip service was paid by Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, who required NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) to investigate and report on setting National safe staffing levels. Though this was done, the report was unpublished and it’s recommendations ignored and buried. Nothing has changed as a result of the Mid Staff’s inquiry. NHS England have  now published a paper suggesting various tools for establishing and grading staffing levels, but have not made any recommendations. In my opinion the best tools are those  created by Dr Keith Hurst (found at keithhurst.research@yahoo.co.uk) which look at acuity, beside the number and qualifications/experience of staff.

The NHS is undergoing a sustained attack by this Health Secretary, fully endorsed by the Tory Government. After 6 years of underfunding (prior to 2010 the NHS budget was increased by 4-6% annually to keep pace with workload increase and inflation) for the first time ever the NHS reported a £2.6 billion deficit in 2016. Now the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) have divided England into 44 ‘footprints’ which are required to ensure cuts (called ‘efficiencies’) of  £22 billion nationwide. This will mean the loss of hundreds of beds and A&E departments as well as the downgrading and closure of hospitals and services. The NHS will no longer exist as we know it.

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The #BursaryorBust campaign and the Junior Doctors’ fight to prevent the imposition of a new contract-though they have not, as yet, been successful-have shown that it is possible to mobilise and communicate the risks to the NHS. We must now join all NHS campaign groups, Trades Unions, and associated community groups to save the best Health Care Service in the world.

We must fight back and now!

www.vimeo.com/bolt/NHSWe must demand our vision for the NHS:

  • Reversing Privatisation and NHS re-Nationalisation.
  • Reversing the abolition of NHS bursaries and maintenance grants, which disadvantages those from poorer backgrounds, single parents and mature students.
  • Integrate and fully fund health and social care.
  • Take back expensive Private Finance Initiative (PFI) builds, which are crippling the health economy.
  • A minimum 10% pay rise to public sector workers.
  • Rent control and the mass building of council housing/affordable housing.
  • Reverse the imposition of the new Junior Doctor contract, working with them to introduce one which is safe and fair.
  • Fully fund NHS education and training.

Like and share our Facebook page #scrapthecap https://m.facebook.com/ScrapTheCapNHS/

Support the National Day of Action for the NHS on the 26th November.

Join the national demonstration and rally on the 28th January 2017 against the imposition of STPs.

Join us again on March 4th in London for a demonstration to ‘Save Our NHS’

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References:

https://www.nice.org.uk/news/feature/nice-releases-safe-staffing-evidence-reviews

https://www.nmc.org.uk/standards/code/

https://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living/oxford

https://www.rcn.org.uk/employment-and-pay/nhs-pay-scales-2016-17

https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/nqb-how-to-guid.pdf

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/oxford-the-least-affordable-city-in-the-uk-where-houses-cost-11-times-local-salaries-9180930.html

http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/14682498.Health_workers_on_the_march_against_Oxfordshire_housing_crisis/

La Brigada de los Barbudos Blancos go to Calais

La Brigada de los Barbudos Blancos go to Calais

 

Planning our return

On the 23rd June members of the Oxford Convoy2Calais met above a pub in St Aldates to discuss the events on the 18th June, The Convoy to Calais. We discussed the success and failure of our attempt to take aid to refugees and migrants in camps around Sangatte. 

All of us were adamant that this wasn’t going to be the end of our involvement, ensuring aid and monetary donations get to these displaced people, via the charity Care4Calais.

This Charity was formed in September 2015 by 2 individuals, Clare Mosley and John Sloan, who left their jobs and families to set up a collection point to provide food, clothing and other necessary items required by those living in these temporary camps. They provide updated, weekly lists of what is required. ‘It isn’t about accepting whatever people want to donate, or get rid of when they have a clear out.’ They work closely with 2 local French charities CalAid and L’auberge des Migrants.

In Oxford we decided to redouble our efforts to collect aid, reopen our justgiving site, to advertise by reprinting and distributing leaflets, and to work towards a return to Calais on the 6th August. However, there were four of us eager, and able to go sooner. Norman Wood, John G Walker, John Comino-James and I determined to go again on the 4th July. I explained that I understood the aid that had not made it to France on the 18th June was still in storage in London, but that The People’s Assembly had to remove everything before the 7th July. In conversation with Tom Griffiths earlier in the week I had discovered that they aimed to load all the aid on another articulated lorry, the weekend of 2nd/3rd July. If we travelled down on the Monday we could pick up any remaining aid, then travel on to Calais.

As it turned out, the lorry arrived and was loaded on the 1st July, taking, amongst all the donations, those made by the people of Oxford, to the depot in France. It was now a complete success. We determined to carry on, and Steve Sweeney (People’s Assembly) confirmed there was still a collection of donated items at their offices in Stratford to be delivered.

Over the following days I contacted Clare to inform them of our journey and to ensure that we would be expected, booked our cars onto a Euro Tunnel train and worked out a route with rough estimations on travel times.

 

Our Journey

Having realised that all four of us in the Oxford group on this adventure were sporting various lengths and styles of facial hair, I decided we should name ourselves after the affectionate sobriquet given to the Cuban revolutionaries after their success and return to the capital, Havana, Los Barbudos (the beards). We were joined at the Thornhill Park and Ride early, on the Monday morning, by a clean shaven photojournalist called Greg, who had asked permission to travel with us.

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Norman, John GW, John C-J, Greg and I.

We travelled in two cars, and all was well until the Sat-Nav decided to take us to the People’s Assembly offices via central London… 

Anyway, after much delay we arrived in Hackney Wick, at The People’s Assembly office (situated within those of the Morning Star) at 11 am, to be greeted by Steve hanging out of the upstairs window shouting a greeting. We parked up, and those with smaller bladders/prostatism relived themselves, before we loaded both cars, cramming them full of tinned foods and labelled bags packed with trainers, hoodies and sleeping bags etc. There was no time for coffee, or breakfast. We had a train to catch in Folkstone.

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Sam Fairbairn, Tom Griffiths and Steve Sweeney (People’s Assembly)

Our passage to the Euro Tunnel terminal was uneventful, apart from some of my more interesting and unique driving skills. By now I was beginning to enjoy the experience and feeling exited about completing our mission. We even managed to book ourselves onto an earlier train and replenish our now very depleted nutritional and fluid levels.

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Norman and John W were slightly delayed due to a search of their vehicle at the French Passport Control…

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Never having used the Tunnel before made this trip all the more ‘exotic’, though at times it wasn’t very clear where we were to go, having at one point to drive onto and out of a platform due to a ‘technical fault’ on one train.

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The journey to Calais was then a very quick 35 minutes. We were rapidly out and into the quite beautiful town; only to discover the Sat Nav is only set up for the UK and Ireland.

A quick attempt was then made to use the MAPS app on an iPhone which Greg had never used, added to the fact that the address given to us, when programmed in, took us to the centre of town, not to an industrial estate as expected. To top this, the contact phone number I had been given just went to answerphone and my text remained unanswered. We had also lost Norman and John W. 

However, after lots of swearing, and frequent disgust at the internet dropping off every few minutes we found that if we put in second line of the address alone it would take us to the correct destination. We arrived at the Care4Calais depot at about 5pm.

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It was very busy with aid arriving continually and the volunteers rushing hither and thither unloading vans and lorries, then loading their van to distribute aid at the local camp.

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It took a few minutes to discover who was in charge to introduce ourselves, and at first I doubted we were expected. But once introductions were made, we were welcomed. We unloaded the vehicles within a few minutes thanks to all the young people working at the depot; then signed in and were given bibs to identify us, ensuring we were covered by their insurance.

Our group was then assimilated with theirs as we were taken aside, given specific roles and instructed how to behave during aid distribution, to ensure that it was done efficiently and safely. As soon as the van returned from the camp it was replenished, this time with individual care packages. The previous drop had been of gas cylinders, in preparation for Eid.

We were told to leave our cameras behind. Those in the camp do not want their photos taken because if these are seen and identified by the authorities it will affect their place of asylum.

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We then followed the van in convoy, taking two of the volunteers. Tara (19) a student studying Politics in Liverpool, and Sophia (20) also a student. Tara had previously volunteered with her Mum, and had decided to return on her own. She was going to stay for a month. She explained that she loved being able to help, but that at times it could be quite challenging. She told me of a recent attack on a migrant she knew. A young lad, he’d just been walking back to the camp a couple of weeks before when the Police had stopped him and arrested him, taking him to a nearby woods, where they had abandoned him to a group of men dressed in black who had spent an hour beating him with sticks…

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Tara (Left)                                                                    Sophia

After a short journey across to the other side of town we drove down a small road, across some rail tracks and into scrubland near a beach. There were just 2 CRS (Companies Republicans de Securite) Officers at the entrance.

C4C camp

A short walk and we were in the camp. A lot of the young men knew the volunteers and came over to greet them. The camp looked clean and organised; there were shacks made of plywood and covered in Tarpaulin, metal containers and even some caravans. We were going into the end of the camp for men; there is another for families. As we walked along men and boys, as young as 14, either smiled and shouted ‘Salaam!’ or looked suspiciously at our strange band. The van arrived and we took up our places. In a blur of activity the van was emptied in about 30 minutes. The men queued patiently, silently, giving little eye contact. As I stood there, I tried to imagine the vocations and backgrounds of these men; they were mostly young, in their 20s and 30s, and ethnically muslim. There were a few middle aged men, and some Africans, but they were a minority. They are almost all middle class and well educated, brought to this place and this humiliation because of War or circumstance. These are Teachers, Engineers, Doctors and Lawyers. It would be better to take the 6000 of them, and to let them live decent lives, contributing to our society, rather than spending £millions trying to keep them out. 

All too quickly it was over and we were on our way back to camp; too many questions swimming around my head. Emotions and thoughts to process. 

We said our goodbyes as they loaded the van for another run, and thanked them for their hospitality. 

On our journey home John C-J and I discussed the day. I am so pleased to have gone… and more determined to get back.

 

 

 

Convoy to Calais – success and failure

Convoy to Calais – success and failure

The Beginning – preparation

I first heard about the ‘Convoy to Calais’ when a leaflet was thrust into my hand at a demonstration in April; it immediately excited me. Here was a chance to go beyond demonstration, to action. A chance to show the Refugees and Migrants in the camps in Calais that there are many of us that care, about them and their desperate situation. The Convoy was organised by a variety of groups including The People’s Assembly, Stop the War, Stand up to Racism, the Muslim Association of Britain, War on Want, and unions such as UNISON, Unite and the FBU. The Convoy was about making a political statement on the plight of Refugees and Migrants across Europe, as well as delivering aid.

In early May our UNISON Oxfordshire Health Branch passed a motion in support pledging £600.

We set about organising, and created our own Facebook page, Oxford Convoy to Calais,  and twitter account, to garner local interest and conversation. We contacted groups likely to be interested and supportive; these included Stand Up To Racism, local Muslim organisations, student groups and the Trades Union Council. This also enabled us to explain our mission and engage the local population in discussion on the plight of Refugees and Migrants, countering the messages from the various EU Referendum campaigns, the majority of which have a negative view of immigration. The main group consisted of Yasmine Rahemtulla, Ian McKendrick,  Norman Wood, Aijaz Javed, John Geoffrey Walker, Sufi Aliyyah Shah, Julie Simmons, Kate Douglas and I, organised by Pat Carmody.

We advertised the aid that was required and set up Drop off points in and around Oxford. I was very pleased that nursing colleagues of mine, working at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, were enthusiastic and eager to set up collection points in their workplaces. These were set up on Neuro Intensive Care (Cat Lamb), the Neurosciences Ward (Kat Cane), Neuro Radiology (Taija Nenonen), The Surgical Emergency Unit (Ana Feiteira) and the Emergency Department. 

Over the next 6 weeks, food and clothing was regularly collected from these, and other drop off points. Ruskin College, in Headington, gave us facility to bring everything donated to be sorted through and packed. A just giving page and cash donations raised a further £968.

On the  29th May local organisers met at The Common People Festival at South Parks. It was the first time I’d had an opportunity to meet everyone involved, and it was lovely to be able to put faces to names that I’d had on e-mail. We distributed almost 2000 leaflets and actually ran out. The leaflets explained the reason for the Convoy, how to join and donate. Our engagement with festival goers was very positive. Paul and Barry Chuckle passed us and took a leaflet; I joked ‘to me, to you, to Calais’ (sorry).

The weather was warm and sunny, as was our reception.

In the last week, volunteers did last collections from the drop off points and individual donations were often exceptional. 3 of us filled our vehicles from a shop in Iffley with Salt, Sugar, Tuna fish, rice and lentils donated by a local Doctor. There were several days of fevered activity ensuring the items were sorted and packed, co-ordinated by Pat. We had so much, that it was decided to hire a van and take the aid to London, where the National Organisers were loading a 38 tonne articulated lorry with all that had been collected.

Some bad news came on Thursday afternoon, when we were informed by the Convoy organisers that the French authorities were not going to allow us to embark our ferry, or deliver aid. We were told that due to the State of Emergency in France there were ‘security concerns’, and consequently were to be denied entry. It was decided we would continue, and get as far as we could, whilst applying pressure through personal contacts and petition.

On Friday Pat and I drove the van with aid, arriving in London’s King’s Cross early afternoon, to discover that the lorry taking aid was already full. An attempt was swiftly made to find another driver and vehicle, but without success. So an enthusiastic group of young people (including Danielle Tiplady, Anthony Johnson and Tom Lock Griffiths) and ourselves, spent the next 2 hours unloading our donations into a storage unit, to be taken to Calais at a future date.

The Convoy

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Oxford Convoy to Calais

 This motley band met at the Thornhill Park and Ride at 0615h on Saturday 18th June, setting off in our own convoy. Our cars were bedecked in Convoy to Calais posters. I had also printed off a quote from Jo Cox MP, who had been murdered by a right-wing racist 2 days previously. It felt the right thing to do, taking her words with me.

My passengers were John, who is an old school photographer, using black and white film only and developing his photographs in a darkroom at home. He is a kind and quiet man whose involvement was through a group called Bread and Roses for Refugees, based in Thame; Cathy is a writer of Russian Revolutionary History, and another kind soul. I made some wonderful new friends on this day.

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Our small convoy got split up on the journey to Whitehall to meet the main Convoy, but all arrived safely at about 0820h. It was strange to see Whitehall empty as we were directed to park in ordered formation.

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We got out, stretched our legs and walked around, greeting old friends and discussing the day’s schedule. We were given flags, which we attached to our vehicle windows, reading ‘Refugees Welcome’. It felt good to be a part of, and identified with this massive company.

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Speeches were held to reinforce the reasons for the Convoy – including John Rees from Stop the War Coalition, Michelline Safi Ndongo, a London Labour councillor, who had been a refugee herself, and Diane Abbott MP, who gave a message from Jeremy Corbyn wishing the Convoy well.

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Feeling positive, and determined to get ourselves and the aid to Calais we set off at 0930h, to meet at the last services before Dover; to reassemble the Convoy prior to entering the port. Over 200 vehicles, including a group of motorcycles (Deen Riders), left Whitehall.

Stopping at the services at midday was a good opportunity to talk to fellow comrades and to get something to eat, but this was interrupted when Kent Police were discovered to be unlawfully taking vehicle details to pass on to the French Police; so that we could be identified and stopped. The Met Police Liaison Officers accompanying the Convoy were informed and the Kent Police withdrew, but this behaviour was a sign of what was to come.

Driving into Dover, in Convoy was a great feeling, especially to see Kent Antifascist Network activists, and other local supporters, standing on the side of the road and on the roundabout at the entry to the Port waving and shouting support.

There was a plan that as each vehicle was refused entry they would drive round and rejoin the back of the queue, until we were allowed onto the ferry. However, on arrival our vehicles were separated from those that were not in the Convoy and we were made to drive into an area separated by large bollards. This we did with good humour, again parking our vehicles and getting out to discover what the next step would be…

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There were vehicles of all shapes and sizes; many had come a long way, including Newcastle and Manchester, most with aid, and anxious to get it to where it was needed. I was told that a couple of vehicles had been allowed past the French immigration checkpoint, but that they had been photographed, fingerprinted and denied entry.

The Convoy organisers from the People’s Assembly, Stop the War and Stand up to Racism spent a long time trying to negotiate our passage to Calais, but the French Authorities would not move on the issue, repeatedly citing that we were a ‘security risk’; that there was a potential for violence and ‘migrant intrusion’. We did get news that the large lorry of aid had got to Calais, having been sent via the Euro tunnel; big cheers and chanting began. People moved forward to the barriers at the front of the vehicle queue. We were angry and frustrated. All the time and effort that had gone into planning, collecting and packing aid; the promises to deliver. The collusion between French and British Police should not have surprised  me, but I was still taken aback that we could be denied free movement and our ferry tickets be ignored.

I’d had a plan to let those in the camps in France know there are many of us who want to help them; i wanted to play with the children – I had taken a football, some tennis balls, 2 frisbees and bottles of bubbles in my car. How could this make us a security risk?

We chanted and shouted – ‘We’ve got aid, let us through! Refugees are humans too’ ‘Say it loud, say it clear, Refugees are welcome here!’ and ‘Freedom of movement is a right, not just for the rich and white!’ Everyone pushed forward to the Police aux frontieres booths, and then across to block all ferry traffic.

The atmosphere was impassioned but peaceful. we stayed there for about an hour, until Sam Fairbairn, from the People’s Assembly, informed us that we had done enough, that we had made a statement which would be heard, and we should leave at a time of our choosing, not that of the Police; that we should  take our protest to the French Embassy in London, depositing some of the aid not delivered on their steps. Some thought we should stay and continue the protest, but the mood had changed; that we should take our grievance and ourselves back to London.

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The Embassy

Getting back in my car I was deflated. I was still angry that we appeared to have failed. On the return journey I discussed this with John and Cathy, and Later with Kate and Pat. We decided to meet again soon, along with the rest of our Oxford colleagues, to determine when best to make a successful return trip to the camps in Calais.

Getting to the French Embassy was difficult and honestly scary. Due to roadworks, Hyde Park Corner was chaos, the like I have only ever seen in Italy and India, with vehicles coming at us from every direction. However, get through we did, unharmed to find a protest already begun. I took a couple of toys from the car and laid them on the steps, alongside those placed by others. The area we were given to demonstrate was tight and crowded, though our number was smaller. Initially the Police had placed everyone across from the Embassy, behind a cordon, but this didn’t last, as more of us arrived that area was unable to contain us. We sang and shouted for another hour, until people drifted away, and we took ourselves home.

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I have concluded that this was a good day. It is true that I did not get to Calais and was not able to show those in the camps solidarity. I did not yet get the aid we collected in Oxford to those who desperately need it, but I am determined that we will. We did manage to get our message across, and the Convoy was reported by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, as well as newsprint media like the Guardian and Independent. The internet if full of videos posted and shared, highlighting why we went and the message we took. In Refugee week this is a success.

As a footnote, there was some fantastic news of other successes. A van from War on Want got through by joining the regular ferry queue, sending photos from the Care4Calais depot, and a group from Shetland, on realising there would be issues in Dover, sailed from Hull to Zeebrugge, driving the 60 mile along the coast to Calais without issue.

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Oh, and another bonus. I think I’ve made friends for life…

Nurse training – why free nursing education and bursaries are essential

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The badges above are a representation of my nursing career over the past 30 years. There are a few missing, but they embody the 14 posts I’ve held, most in general surgery.

I qualified, aged 23, in 1985, from Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury. I was in one of the last cohorts to train ‘traditionally’; employed by the hospital, on a low monthly salary.

During my training as a Registered General nurse (RGN), we completed 8 week ward placements, including Obstetrics, Paediatrics, and Psychiatry; every 16 weeks we had a 2 week stint back in the nursing school to prepare us for the next 2 placements. When we qualified, the hospital guaranteed everyone a job. There were no interviews, you would just ask the relevant ward Sister/Charge Nurse if they had any jobs going and please could you have one… my first formal interview was in 1990 at Addenbrooke’s wearing a particularly fetching gold and black suit.

Project 2000 nurse training began in 1986; brought in by the UKCC (the registration body prior to the NMC) in order to begin to professionalise nursing. For the first time students were supernumerary when on placement, and paid a bursary in lieu of salary.

Coming to the present day, nursing is now a Degree only profession, as it had to be. There were fears when the diploma training finished, that it would exclude those students coming from poor educational backgrounds, mature students with families or those with previous careers. But that did not happen and access courses, secondments, with clinical and educational support, have meant nursing has continued to attract a good quality and number of candidates.

Throughout the last 30 years I have mentored student nurses training via all of these different methods, and have found no difference in their ability to care, enthusiasm, compassion or competency. The fact that nursing is now a degree course does, however, mean that nurses are now able to look other health care professionals in the eye, question decisions and work more collaboratively because nursing is now based on evidence and research. We can talk to other professionals in the same language, and our qualification has status; allowing those that wish to move the profession forward, to go further in pushing the boundaries of nursing. Today, if you wish to progress higher than Sister or Charge Nurse there is an expectation that you will have a Masters Degree.

Yet, though we are more educated and are taking on more diverse roles and responsibility we have not had any significant pay rise since 2008, and our standard of living and salary has dropped in real terms by 14-20% since then.

To add to this, on the 25th November the Chancellor, George Osbourne, made a statement in which he removed £800m from the nurse education budget, moving Student nurses from free education, supported by bursaries, onto annual loans  of £9,000. He claims this will remove the cap on student nurse places, and will allow 10,000 more nurses to be trained annually, on top of the 20,000 currently. He does not state how this figure was estimated, though Universities claim they turn down 5 for each nursing student place. The cap is one which the Secretary of State for Health is responsible for, and could be raised, but there is a problem here…Universities already struggle to find  meaningful placements for students, with enough trained mentors to support them. Where are these additional mentors and placements going to come from when the student population is increased by a third?

As others have pointed out, a nursing degree is not like any other. Apart from academic study and assignments they have their placements and competencies to complete, which means they have no time available to take on part time jobs to assist them in paying living costs, which will mean taking out further loans to pay for rent and food. Where is the evidence that there are students waiting to take on up to £65,000 in debt, on a starting salary of £21,692, and on which they will begin paying back immediately, now with an interest rate between 3-9%?

In the South, Nurses now find average house prices 10-20x their average salary, with rents taking 78% of their monthly income. Without a significant wage rise, nursing will not be a viable career choice, and nursing students cannot be saddled with loans and repayments by this Government.

 

There is some good news. As a direct result of the threat to nursing education, and the removal of bursaries, nurses are becoming politicised. There has already been one march on the Department of Health, organised by current student nurses, King’s College London Nursing and Midwifery Society and it’s President Danielle Tiplady.

The next demonstration to be held in London is on the 9th January 2016, and is being supported by the RCN, Unison and Unite, as well as Natalie Bennett and MPs Neil Coyle and Wes Streeting; the NHA Party and the Peoples Assembly. Junior Doctors will also attend in support, whilst also fighting their own battle to maintain patient safety and safe working conditions.

Protest and opposition is growing to these attacks on NHS staff and the institution itself, and these will continue whilst £22b savings are made to a service which has a £2.6b overspend this year; whilst A&E and elective targets are missed and the patient experience deteriorates.

#nursesroar

Articles and references

Independent, 25th November 2015 – Government faces legal challenge over controversial  plan to make students pay £6000 extra on loans

slc.co.uk – interest rates

gov.uk – Chancellor George Osbourne’s spending review and autumn statement 2015 speech

rcn.org.uk – NHS pay scales 2015-16

theguardian.com – average house prices rise 8.8 times local salary in England and Wales

The Nursing Times, 11th June 2012 – it feels strange to be the last of the nursing diplomas’

The Nursing Times, 12th May 2008 – Nursing in the 1990s

theguardian.com – George Osbourne considers axing student nurse bursaries

 

 

 

 

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