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Thursday, 30 July 2015

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View from across the pond: Your doctors provided best care for me

SIR – From April 2009 until I retired at the end of 2010 I was the managing director of the National Nuclear Laboratory headquarters at Sellafield. My wife Cindy and I had the pleasure of living in the locality, near Boot.

praise for service: West Cumberland Hospital

As US citizens, we followed news in the States via the Internet. In particular, we were very interested in the heated debate that occurred over the Affordable Care Act which sought to provide health insurance to all Americans. The act was eventually passed, however all Republican presidential candidates vow to repeal the law, which they derisively call ‘Obamacare’.

During the debate and the current presidential campaign an argument frequently made is “we don’t want to have health care like England”! They refer to long waits and limited, approved treatments. These certainly can be the case, especially in non-urgent situations or treatments with a low probability of success.

Nevertheless, I can only believe that none of the people making these statements have ever experienced the UK National Health Service first hand, as I did.

When I developed blood clots in my lungs after a business trip, my medical care was exceptionally fast and expertly delivered. After seeing Dr Tim Sowton at the Seascale Surgery, regarding shortness of breath, I was sent to the West Cumberland Hospital for tests. Upon reviewing the preliminary results, I was immediately admitted for further testing and diagnostics.

Over the course of that evening and night, four doctors thoroughly questioned me about my symptoms and each progressed my diagnosis. The next morning they had reached a conclusion regarding the problem and tests were run which confirmed the presence of blood clots in my lungs. A treatment was prescribed and, at my own urging, I was discharged for recovery at home. The medical services I received at the Seascale Surgery and West Cumberland Hospital were effective and courteous.

While it would not come as a surprise to a UK citizen, I was totally amazed by the fact that I never had to sign my name or produce any form of payment.

Despite having private health insurance and the ability to go anywhere in the UK or the US for treatment, I could not have received better care than that provided by Dr Sowton, at Seascale and by the staff at the West Cumberland Hospital.

Since returning to the States in 2011, I have had further occasion to seek health care. In November I had back surgery to correct sciatica. I had excellent treatment and the operation was a success. The total cost for this treatment, including a two-night hospital stay, was approximately $100,000 (£62,000). Fortunately I have health insurance and my out-of-pocket expenses were manageable. Until the US’s Affordable Health Care Act fully comes into effect, too many Americans would not be covered by health insurance and would have to forego treatment. At times like this I think about my UK experience, and treatment in Cumbria, and give thanks.


West Richland, Washington, USA

SIR – Re the Health and Social Care Bill, please urge your readers to sign up to the petition to STOP THE BILL NOW (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22670


We all accept we need changes but these need to be driven from our vision of the National Health Service as stated by the BMA:

• A co-operative and co-ordinated environment where patients are guaranteed the most clinically appropriate cost-effective care.

• Clinician-led, patient focused, locally sensitive and accountable to the community.

This vision has been lost in the large amount of chaotic change that is taking place which is in danger of fragmenting our NATIONAL Health Service.

The coalition needs to live up to its promises to stop top-down reorganisation as this gets in the way of patient care.

Shifting decision-making powers to clinicians and stream-lining patient pathways should not require legislation.

Reforming our NHS should be led by health care professionals and patients and not by political dogma and bureaucrats.

Coun Carole WOODMAN


SIR – In his letter published on January 31, Mr Wood asks for further clarifications about the West Cumbria MRWS Partnership’s views on any future siting process.

In chapter 10 of our current consultation document, the Partnership sets out how it thinks ‘voluntarism’ might work in any future process to search for a site for a possible geological disposal facility. It is important to note that voluntarism is a new approach – an alternative to the more traditional planning process in which planning authorities, or the Government, make final decisions, based on consultations with communities. In a voluntarism process, as the Partnership has understood it so far (and set out in its consultation document), the emphasis is on potential host communities and borough/county councils building agreement and maximising consensus at every stage. This is a fundamentally different approach and it will take some getting used to.

So, with this context in mind, our responses to Mr Wood’s questions are:

Yes, we do at this point believe that there are limited circumstances where a borough or county council could ultimately override the wishes of a potential host community (just like in the traditional planning system).

Yes, at present we do feel that the representatives of a potential host community, which expresses a wish not to be included in the search for a possible site for a facility, should be able to show that they have given the whole community the opportunity to contribute views and deliberate on the issues in an informed way. We feel that the highest possible standards of community engagement should be maintained, with support and funding for undertaking this activity (running a thorough consultation, commissioning a poll etc). We have not taken a view on who should make a judgement on whether the right standards have been reached.

Mr Wood also seems to be concerned about the possible role of the borough/county councils on any possible future partnership. The current Partnership has not taken a view on the best form of any future partnership, but it has said clearly that this too should be discussed by all the parties.

Finally, I must encourage all readers to read the Partnership’s consultation document for themselves and return their comments on our emerging opinions by the closing date of March 23.


Chair of the Partnership

SIR – Whilst your full page article (Whitehaven News Extra February 23) on the underground nuclear dump at Carlsbad, New Mexico, makes interesting reading, I can’t help wondering about your motives for publishing it.

Your glowing testimony of the WIPP facility, whilst misleading in several respects, carries the subliminal message that what’s good for the folk of Carlsbad must also be good for Copeland, whose communities should welcome the prospect of an underground dump and reap the so-called benefits that have been showered on New Mexico by a US Government and industry that is in as much of a pickle on nuclear waste as we are in the UK.

It wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to discover that, as a result of your article, the pro-dumping worthies of Copeland and Allerdale are, at this very moment, setting up travel arrangements for a junket to Carlsbad at taxpayers’ expense to see for themselves the wonders you describe. It would of course be a complete waste of time, for the list of ‘similarities’ you list between Copeland and Carlsbad conveniently forgets to point out that the respective geologies are as different as chalk and cheese – the latter area being as flat as a pancake and having the simple hydrogeology that NIREX would have killed for in West Cumbria.

Further, the WIPP facility is limited to a maximum of around 175,000 cubic metres of low-level waste and plutonium contaminated materials produced by America’s weapons establishments – a drop in the ocean compared to UK volumes which include high-level waste and spent fuel. True, as a result of the multi-billion dollar failure of the Yucca Mountain dump in Nevada, pressure is now being applied to expand Carlsbad to take these higher level wastes, but increasing local opposition is quite rightly raising the less-than-perfect safety record for WIPP which your article completely omits. Why no mention of the degrading concrete discovered in the shafts, the seepage of water into the salt caverns or, most recently, the leaking to the atmosphere of carbon tetrachloride gas from leaking waste drums at increasing levels that threaten to restrict or even stop any further waste emplacement ?

New Mexico may be hot and sunny and be full of nice folk, but please spare us from any more of this promotional nonsense.


Campaign Coordinator, Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment

SIR – Following on from my letter of February 17, I am delighted to hear from my Allerdale borough and county councillor, Ron Munby, that all Allerdale and Cumbria county councillors will be able to individually vote to decide whether to move on to Stage 4, the siting process.

I urge all residents to contact their councillors and resist the siting of a nuclear disposal site potentially bigger than the city of Carlisle, underground in Cumbria.


Briar Rigg, Keswick

SIR – Thank you for publishing my letter (The Whitehaven News, February 16) with regard to the closure of the public toilets in Lancashire Road, Millom, and also the response from Joanne Wagstaffe on behalf of Copeland Borough Council.

From our own contact with Tesco’s chief executive’s office, we know that they had an interest in adopting the facility but that their discussions with Copeland Borough Council were frustrated by issues with regard to ownership, rates and water supplies to the building.

This is a great pity for the people of Millom and South Copeland since an opportunity to retain the building as toilets for the public good has been lost.

It’s unclear, from Ms Wagstaffe’s remarks, on what basis Copeland Borough Council believes that the Millom Park (St George’s Road) toilets are as accessible as those in Lancashire Road.

There are no parking facilities at Millom Park. Individuals with mobility impairments are now at quite a disadvantage by having to make their way from the town’s main car parks and Tescos, to the public toilets at Millom Park, which is a considerable distance. From Tescos, it means putting one’s wheelchair back in the car, drive to the Millom Park toilets, where you have to park back from the toilet block because of a crossing and speed bump, right outside, and no safety area, unload their wheelchair and (if it’s still required) go into the toilets, then re-load the wheelchair back into the car, all this whilst moving traffic is trying to get past.

Elderly have a long trail if walking, it’s certainly no picnic. This makes them unreasonably difficult to use for disabled and older people.

Did Copeland Borough Council undertake an Equality Impact Assessment to make sure the needs of people were taken into account before deciding to close the Lancashire Road toilets? Did anyone take a look at the site or was it just a desk-top exercise?

Have any of the people involved in the decision-making process received access audit training? Are any of them disabled themselves? Were any disabled groups consulted? The South Copeland Disability Group certainly weren’t invited to comment – why not??

If Equality Impact Assessment had been done, it would have been evident to Copeland Borough Council that closing these particular toilets would have a negative effect on both physically disabled and older people.

The closure of these toilets has, in fact, already had an adverse effect not only on the disabled community but also for older people, women and families with young children who regularly shop at Tescos. We have strong anecdotal evidence of people having unfortunate ‘accidents’ as a consequence of the Lancashire Road toilets being unavailable.

I’m sure that I don’t need to elaborate further on this last point. As you might expect these individuals are too embarrassed to make a formal complaint.

The embarrassment might be theirs but the shame for the situation certainly lies elsewhere!


Secretary, South Copeland Disability Group)

SIR – Joanna Wagstaffe, corporate director resources and transformation with Copeland Borough Council, reveals an astonishing lack of understanding in access issues by her response to Mr Moore over the issue of the public toilets at Lancashire Road, Millom.

She invites us to believe that Copeland Borough Council closing down inclusive, accessible public toilets at the town’s busiest point of usage adjacent to two car parks and its major shopping area is considerate of access issues.

The borough council cannot have considered the extra time, inconvenience, effort, discomfort and yes, loss of dignity, that can occur when the disabled, elderly and infirm are forced to trek hundreds of yards to a remote alternative location.

This places disabled people at a substantial disadvantage and calls into question just how Copeland Borough Council believes that it has properly discharged its duty in this regard.


Glencoe Close, Millom

SIR – Everyone knows that the UKIP fanatics want Britain to withdraw from the European Union but now they are making up stories to support their case.

Paul Nuttall, the party’s North West MEP, has claimed that new EU laws would require small businesses to hand over 25,000 Euros before they can start trading. He described the proposal as “outrageous” and an example of “unnecessary EU interference”.

UKIP’s claim is completely false. As so often, the party has invented facts and conjured up words in ways that seem intended to deceive.

The truth is that the EU requirements have been in place for 30 years, apply only to large companies with shares traded on the stock market, and are less onerous than those required by the British authorities.

In response to my enquiries, the Federation of Small Businesses confirmed that the legislation apples only to Public Limited Companies and issued this public statement: “Publishing the wrong information is severely discouraging small businesses, especially start-ups. While this deters the individual business, spreading false information could damage the recovery of our economy as a whole.”

UKIP gets away with it because few people are able to check whether their stories ring true. By my reckoning, if Paul Nuttall’s nose were to grow every time he makes a pronouncement about the EU that is not true it would soon be touching his feet.


Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West

Castle Street, Stockport

SIR – Question 4 in the quiz last week: How many lakes are there in the Lake District?

You gave the answer as 31, but in fact there is only one, and that is Bassenthwaite Lake. The rest are waters, meres and tarns.

Having said that, you would still get just as wet if you fell into any of them!


High Meadows, Whitehaven

SIR – I am writing to thank all the people and organisations who supported my charity sportsman’s dinner at the White Mare Hotel, Beckermet, last Friday.

Firstly to Phil Ward for all the work he put in organising the event. Also NMP, Energy Solutions, The Ship Launch, Egremont, Canberra, GMB and the White Mare for purchasing the tables. Several sporting items were auctioned, donated by Whitehaven RL club, James Donaldson, George Clements and Paul Nelson, raising over £300. Thanks to the bidders, both successful and not.

A terrific night was enjoyed by all, who were thoroughly entertained by Rugby League legend Robbie Hunter Paul, comedian Rudi West and the master of ceremonies, Howard Nicholson. A substantial amount was raised for my two charities, Young Carers (West Cumbria) and Cumbria Macmillan Nurses. Thanks once again to all involved.


Mayor of Copeland

SIR – I am writing in response to the recently-published figures on workplace deaths, which show that five people were killed while at work in Cumbria in 2010/11 and 217 suffered a major injury.

I would urge businesses to focus on the real health and safety dangers that their employees face to help cut the number of deaths and major injuries in future.

However, it’s not surprising that employers are left confused about their health and safety responsibilities when these stark figures contrast with a host of ‘health and safety gone mad’ stories in the national media.

The ‘Health and safety made simple’ pages on the HSE website gives straightforward, step-by-step guidance on what you need to do – and no more. For more information, visit www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety.


North West Regional Director, HSE

SIR – Time is running out for readers to nominate their favourite local charities and good causes for this year’s National Lottery Awards, which shine a light on the Lottery-funded organisations changing communities and transforming lives.

Projects making it to the final of the Awards will be recognised at a star-studded event broadcast on BBC One in the autumn – more than three million people tuned in to watch the show last year. They will also have a chance to win a £2,000 cash prize.

The deadline is Monday March 12, so we urgently want to hear from anyone that knows of a local National Lottery-funded project that deserves some recognition.

Readers can visit www. nationallotteryawards.org.uk to find out more.


National Lottery Draw Show Host

The National Lottery Awards


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