Saturday, 29 June 2013

Nottingham Citizens Founding Assembly 2013

Nottingham Citizens, that most wonderful of local social justice organisations, recently held their Founding Assembly – and it was as inspirational an event as BFTF has come to expect from them.

The Story of Nottingham Citizens
In 2010 a group of leaders from across Nottingham gathered to consider the potential of community organising, as pioneered by CitizensUK, for Nottingham. A number of groups took a risk, took a chance, that by working together they could achieve something wonderful and so with financial contributions from the Anglican Diocese, Nottingham Trent University, Unison and Unite, Muslim Hands, Karimia, Himmah, Trent Vineyard Church, the Christian Centre, Grace Church and St Nic's, an organiser was appointed and work began.

In the years to come, Nottingham may come to realise the debt it owes to those institutions who took that initial leap of faith and brought community organising to Nottingham.

There are now thirty eight due paying organisations in Nottingham Citizens – and they were present in some considerable numbers for the Founding Assembly.

Each member org introduced themselves on stage -
here is a student from Bluebell Hill Primary School doing just that
(click to enlarge any picture)

Representatives from all the Notingham Citizens
member organisations on stage

Far from being a starting point, the Assembly was a waymarker in a journey that had seen a great deal of research into what issues were important to the citizens of Nottingham. Three themes emerged from this – that Nottingham wants to be a city that is safer, healthier and more prosperous.

Nottingham Citizens has already challenged local government and other institutions to deliver specific actions that aim to improve the social fabric of Nottingham:

Nov 2012 saw a series of challenges being put to prospective candidates for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner.

July 2012 saw the release of the Hope and Homelessness Commission Report, which looked at the injustices faced by people seeking sanctuary – and asked local government, G4S and UKBA to undertake specific actions to improve the situation.

As Konnie Lloyd from the Refugees Forum pointed out :

"By working together we have achieved improvements to the lives of people seeking sanctuary"

More recently, there have been lobbying efforts to show local politicians how important a Living Wage is to the people of Nottingham and a community cohesion event at the Kashmir Centre.

The Founding Assembly was an opportunity to celebrate the growth, efforts and achievements of Nottingham Citizens; to see what progress had been made on past issues; and to challenge local government and others to move further forward on the road to making Nottingham more safer, healthier and more prosperous.

The Calvary Family Church dance troupe
providing a break from proceedings.

Progress on previous challenges
Paddy Tipping and his deputy Chris Cutland came onto the stage to state what progress had been made in delivering the commitments made at the PCC Accountability Assembly.

They had delivered on the commitments to :

Spend time with Nottingham Citizens to develop a working relationship.

Provide a contact point at The Forest to improve security there

And were working towards fulfilling the commitments to:
Improve security for children along the main school bus routes - Paddy stated that the intelligence on school routes and the incident reporting system had already been improved.

Improve the implementation of "Stop and Search" (which disproportionately targeted BME communities) and introduce receipts to "Stop and Account" – Paddy stated that a report on Stop and Search would be published on Jul 15th and that the Police recognised that "we've got to make major changes" to ensure that "all sections of the community are treated with respect".

Match funding to implement a system of CCTV in citycabs to protect both passengers and drivers – Paddy explained that the money for this was available and that discussions on how best to implement the system, which was likely to be voluntary, was ongoing.

A musical interlude came from
the Bluebell Primary School who sang 'Sing'

Good to see a significant Muslim presence at the event

New Challenges
The Nottingham Citizens member organisations and strategy teams had identified a series of issues that aimed to move Nottingham along the path towards being a safer, healthier and more prosperous city. In each case, Nottingham Citizens was offering to work with local government to achieve the aims of the proposal.

Powerful testimonies were presented to give examples of why change was needed.

Lisa, a victim of domestic violence, described the trauma that she had survived:

"I grew up in a home filled with domestic violence. My dad was a cruel man. He used to eat my mum Michelle. He would beat me and my brother Tyrone and we would take turns to stand in front and take the worst of it.

I was seven years old when he murdered my mum. I watched it happen. I saw him kill her.

I grew up thinking that was the norm…All us women in my area experienced it. It's not just my dad. I know two other men who've killed their wives. I mean I actually know them. When we used to go out you'd meet up on a Sunday and one of us would have had a good hiding. We'd laugh about it – but people were scared."

Jason explained how mental and physical health problems had affected him and his family:

"My childhood was unhappy. My parents observed a strict religious doctrine and forbade me from associating with others…My home life was also violent. My parents would burn and beat me and my younger brother who I tried to protect.

At 15 my parents cast me out because I refused to accept their beliefs. I was homeless for a week and after finding accommodation I slowly became involved in the world of criminality.

Meeting my wife to be Wendy changed my life. On becoming a father I decided to leave my criminal life for good. The birth of our first daughter was swiftly followed by the birth of her sister. Two daughters and a wife and the desire to provide for them meant hard work. Honest work is hard work and for years I worked eighteen or twenty hours a day. I ended up working in all aspects of gardening, work I really enjoyed at last.

By 2006 I began to feel an intense pain in my joints. The pain could make such simple tasks as making a sandwich or turning the pages of a book impossible. I went to hospital and was diagnosed with a condition that meant I would probably never work again.

In a short time I had gone from a strong and healthy provider to a pathetic burden."

Jason described how he tried to find a way out by taking an overdose of sleeping pills, but was fortunately found by a neighbour before it was too late. He added that :

"Soon after I began to self-harm, finding relief in cutting myself or striking my joints with a hammer to exact revenge upon them. This is probably pretty hard to listen to now long after the event, imagine my wife and daughters desperately trying to engage professional help and support. I was in a terrible state, angry, confused and distressed, but it took months of being dismissed by my GP and offered more pills before I was finally referred to the mental health team. Even when I finally met that team getting real lasting support is proving incredibly difficult.

I know I will never be the man I was but I owe it to my family to be the best man I can. I need help to deliver that commitment."

Peter Wright (ex. Boots) and Carol Star (Unite) explained why a Living Wage is needed:

"We want a Living Wage. £7.45/hr. An independently calculated figure based on the cost of living. The real minimum needed to raise a family. It is wrong to subsidise big employers up to £1,000 per person in tax credits when they choose to pay their cleaners, cooks and security staff less than it costs to live. The Living Wage campaign was launched by our sister organisation in East London in 2001. As Citizens UK we've won more over £200million for over 100,000 hard working people."

The "Asks"

"Safe" Proposals (put to Paddy Tippping)
1 : That the Women's Aid hotline for victims of domestic abuse have its funding increased (as it cannot currently respond to all the calls that come through to it. And that a programme teaching about "Healthy Relationships" be given to every primary school child to try and break the cycle of abuse.

2 : A CitySafe Pubs and Clubs Charter be set up to make nights out safer.

3 : Interviews be allocated to 35 BME candidates identified and prepared by Nottingham Citizens

Paddy was supportive of all the proposals and pointed out that extra funding had been allocated to the hotline. Regarding increasing the level of BME participation in the Police force, Paddy said that it would take decades to address the issue at present trends and that he was keen to go further than the proposal on BME recruitment, adding that he was getting a lot of support for this from the black churches.

"Healthy" Proposals (put to Cllr Alex Norris)
1: That the Health and Wellbeing board ensure that clinical assessement forms assess mental health and social history as well as physical health.

2) That the NUH and Notts Healthcare boards appoint a lead for mental and for physical health.

3) That the chair of the CCG spend a day with Nottingham Citizens and that the registered nurse have their time increased to that of the registered doctor

Cllr Norris was supportive of all these proposals.

"Prosperous" proposals (Put to Cllr Graham Chapman, Cllr Alex Norris and Cllr Diana Meale)
1) That major public and private sector employers pay a living wage

2) That the City Council reduce its rate on care cost loans to 1% over base rate (currently 8%) and that the Money Shop improve their practices in line with their Canadian subsidiary

3) That national government supports jobs with inward investment to Nottinghamshire.

Incredibly, Cllr Chapman (for the city) and Cllr Meale (for the county) committed to ensuring all their staff were on a living wage by Apr 2014 and Jan 2014 respectively, although Cllr Chapman warned that this would have consequences elsewhere in the city's budget. The County Council went further than the "ask" by also commiting to asking their suppliers to support a living wage, support apprenticeships and to favour the use of local labour.


Cllr Norris was unable to commit to the reduction of interest below 8%, saying that the rate could be negotiated with families on a case by case.

Cllr Alex Norris being challenged to commit to Health 'asks'

Some clever organisation at work here
during the section on creating a prosperous Nottingham

The MP's
Local MP's Chris Leslie and Lilian Greenwood were present at the Assembly and made some very supportive comments at the end of the programme. The two MP's offered to engage with Nottingham Citizens and agree an issue which they would try and get debated in Parliament – and also an issue on which they would try to get a meeting with the relevant minister. Good stuff.

Chris Leslie MP and Lilian Greenwood MP

Related Links:
Nottingham Citizens
Interview with Milton Keynes Citizens
Hope and Homlessness Commission Report
Tips on Community Organising

Are Banks causing more jewellery burglaries?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Action at the Bank

The Building For The Future Blog and Himmah have teamed up to present a series of six practical and very interactive sessions looking at examples of how we can all challenge (or praise) organisations and government on their actions and policies. One aim of the sessions is to focus on actions and topics that are not narrowly "Muslim" topics, but rather look at issues where Muslims and wider society can share common ground.

Sessions aim to be largely structured group discussion format. Critically, sessions end with participants committing to send an email to challenge (or praise) an organisation about an issue related to the topic of that session. The group may decide to all email the same org, or they may decide to work independently. Scroll down to read short reports from each session.

Click to enlarge

1) Introduction, examples of collective action
2) Sustainability and ethics
3) Local Government
4) NGO's
5) The Media

Further Sessions

Session 1 : Introduction, examples of collective action
The introduction to the sessions, together with many exampls of collective action, are pretty well summarised in a previous post entitled "Proof that Activism really can work".
Lucky these groups didn't think engagement with authority was useless

It is also perhaps adding examples of how ad-hoc campaigns can achieve results remarkably quickly, a good example being that of the blog run by charming Scottish school Martha Payne

During the discussion it became clear that it was very easy for people, BFTF included, to run off in a solely negative direction, listing one perceived injustice against Muslims after another. To try and combat this, BFTF pinned up the schematic below, as a reminder to stay in the centre section and not drift off into one of the outer areas.

Need to stay in the centre section !

Session 2 : Sustainability and Ethics
This session started with two examples, one challenging and one praising, from the blog:

Challenging : Hey Jamie, Where's the sustainable packaging?

Praising : FSC in some toys at Tesco

During the discussion, it became clear that some people were simply not aware of third party labelling systems such as FSC(for wood and paper) or MSC(for fish).

Regarding wood and paper, it pretty much boils down to this:
i) A lot of paper is produced from illegally logged or unsustainably sourced wood.
ii) There is a strong Islamic basis for avoiding this paper and using sustainably sourced paper instead (similar ethos in other faiths)
ii) Labels saying "sustainable" mean nothing, there has to be a recognised third party scheme behind the label
iii) Schemes such as ISO14001 and PEFC are very weak, and do not provide much protection to ancient untouched forests.
iv) The best type of paper to buy is "post-consumer recycled paper", made from the waste paper from offices etc.
v) The next best thing is FSC certified.
vi) A measure of how far wider society has gone along the road of using FSC certified paper is that even the till receipts at TESCO are printed on FSC paper.

On the other hand, there were some great comments from the group about how they had been involved in camapigns to save allottments.

Others commented on how they bought their meat from Willowbrook Farm, a halal supplier who treated the animals humanely and farm organically.

And there were also comments on how great organic vegetable box schemes were ( earth organics.)

After some discussion, it was decided that the group would email NTU to thank them for their "EcoCampus" work on improving sustainability via their internal auditing system.

And that the group would challenge Councillor Nicola Heaton on why the Notts Refugee Forum could not have a recycling facility. This action was based on a comment from one of the group who had volunteered at the forum and noted that the Forum wanted to recycle their paper etc but could not get the right facilities. Another group member took on the task of clarifying exactly what the problem was before any emails were sent out.

The comments on NTU's environmental auditing, including efforts to increase video conferencing and reduce car travel, made the group wonder whether car sharing was something that should be promoted amongst Nottingham's mosques - all of which have parking issues on a Friday in particular. It seemed that one mosques had already made moved along these lines. BFTF agreed to find out more...

BFTF's email to NTU:

I have recently become aware of the Carbon Challenge project at NTU that aims to reduce the carbon footprint of NTU by 48% from a 2005 baseline by 2021/21, and that you are already purchasing all your electricity from a green supplier.

Wow !

I really wish you all the best with this endeavour and hope you reach the very challenging target you have set yourselves!

The whiteboard at the end of the session !

Close up on the interesting bits

Session 3 : Local Government (e.g. justics, care for the vulnerable
As usual, the session started with two examples, one challenging and one praising, from the blog:

Challenging : Domestic Violence in the Muslim Community

Praising : Nottingham Decent Homes Impact Study

Regarding the "challenging" example above, BFTF had been passed between pillar and post by an assortment of council staff - none of whom had felt able to do the one thing that needed doing (contact and engage with a mosque). Some of the attendees at the session suggested that perhaps a way forward would be send an email to Nottingham Council saying "Contratulations, you fobbed me off so many times I felt lke giving up".

One positive example that was mentioned was a report in the Nottingham Post about the Forest Rec, and how engagement between the council and grass-roots organisations such as the "Friends of the Forest" had transformed and upgraded it over recent years.

More critically, another issue discussed was that of the way in which the council imposed parking restrictions on streets close to areas such as hospitals. One person commented that "I don't mind people visiting sick parking outside my house, I don't mind nurses dealing with wage freezes parking outside my house. Just don't block the drive!"

In terms of a postive email, the consensus was to send a message to Cllr Trimble thanking him for the work the council had done with grass roots organisations to improve the facilities at the Forest

Whilst in terms of a challenging email it was decided to ask the council how the ensured they got a truly representative spread of opinions when implementing parking restrictions - and how they evaluate approval of the changes after they had been impletmented.

BFTF's email to Cllr Trimble:

"Just wanted to say thank you for you and the council for working with grass roots organisations such as the Friends of the Forest to improve facilities at the Forest Recreation Ground and help preserve this gift to the city for future generations."
BFTF's email to Cllr Jane Urquhart

"I was involved in a discussion recently about the imposition of parking restrictions in residential areas such as sthose close to hospitals and wanted to ask a) How does the transport dept ensure it gets a truly representative view of what the residents feel.b) How does it evaluate the residents feelings regarding the parking restrictions after they have been implemented."

The board at the end of Session 3

Session 4 : NGO's (charites, community orgs etc)
As usual, the session started with two examples, one challenging and one praising, from the blog:

Challenging : The MCB and what will happen to Aghanistan when the troops leave in 2014

Praising : Good Work by Leeds Makkah Masjid in preventing domestic violence

Another positive example was that of tiny Masjid Noor, who had been hugely and unhesitatingly supportive of "Bring A Tin" foodbank donation events.

A discussion about other examples of praising or challenging NGO's proved to be absolutely fascinating...

One attendee described how they had been impressed by an Islamic Org in Liverpool that took the rights of their neighbours very seriously. The org had notices inside the building explaining why it was important to show respect for ones neighbours, that parking close by was discouraged for congestion reasons, that parking on the next street was preferably for sisters only (for their security) and that everyone else should park 2-3 streets away where there was more room!

Another gave the example of a group of Imams in London who call themselves "Imams Against Domestic Abuse" who were doing some great work in combating the causes of domestic abuse (they use the term "abuse" rather than "violence" to recognise that psychological abuse can be just as damaging as physical atacks). You can find out more about this group here, here and here.

Yet another gave the example of the National College of Policing who, at one of their facilities, had made quite an effort to ensure there were prayer and other facilities for Muslims. The sister who mentioned this said that she had sent a senior policeman a lengthy email thanking the Police for the facilities and had found that the policemam concerned had remembered this several years later when she again had cause to have a dialogue with him. Which just goes to show how big an impact an email can have!

One attendee rather thoughtfully mentioned that, in their opinion, one of the most important positive actions over the last year or so had been the decision of some senior Nottingham Imams to support, and pay subsciption dues to, Notingham Citizens. He describd how it had taken many meetings and "delegations" to achieve this and that it seemed that a problem was that Muslim orgs were so focused on their internal politics that they were not looking at the wider picture. He also pointed out the difference between a congregation at a mosque, who are not generally active volunteers, and the congregation at a church such as Trent Vineyard, who each pledge to give several hours of time as volunteers each month.


In terms of a supportive email, discussion settled on a wish to say well done to the Islamic Centre for starting to open its doors to other Muslim community organisations and allowing them to use its facilities and space. So the group agreed to each send an email to the Islamic Centre to this effect.

In terms of a challenging email, the consensus was that there was a need for Jammat Alhe Sunnat Nottingham (the city's most representative Muslim group) to become more active and more accountable. To this end it was agreed that the group would all send an email to JASN asking them to attend a meeting at Himmah. At the meeting, JASN would be asked what they were doing to address three significant issues in the Muslim community:
i) Educational underachivement
ii) Provision/services for women at mosques
iii) Islamophobia

There was also the view that these issues should also, perhaps, be taken up directly with three of the largest mosques in Notingham (Islamic Centre, BMCC and Jamia Fatimiah) at a later date.

Top of the board on Week 4

Bottom of the board on Week 4

Session 4 : The Media (Bias, PCC, Challenging the media)
As usual, the session started with examples that were challenging or praising, from the blog:

Challenging : Demonising reporting at the Daily Mail, Failure of BBC to report NHS reforms

Praising : Great Stuff on the BBC

An initial comments in the discussion was how the media can label a person to demonise a particular group. One example given was that of a criminal who the media described as a "British born Nigerian" whereas he was simply a person who was born and brought up in this country. BFTF has had trouble finding evidence of this on the Internet, so this may not be a significant issue.

More positively, comments were made regarding a heartwarming article that described how an Indian had sold some of his farmland to fund his daughters education, you can read the tale here.

And also on how someone had been so impressed with the way the BBC had reported an Islamic Awareness event that they had send off an email to say "thanks, and well done".

One interesting comment was how the media had covered the, frankly bizarre, Twitter reaction to the new Miss America being a lady of Indian heritage. Many Tweeps complained that such a person should not hold the crown because she was "an Arab", or because it was "a slap in the face" after 9/11, or that she was Miss "Al Qaeda". Much of the press rightly poured scorn on these comments, which was good to see.

The Guardian was praised for its coverage of Wikileaks, support for Bradley Manning and exposure of NSA surveillance.

In terms of an action, the consensus was very much that Experian, who are based in Nottingham, should be challenged on their advertising support alongside a MailOnline article that demonised Muslims by trying, completely without fundation, to associates the phrase "strict Muslim" with a criminal who assaulted a series of women in London. See here for the relevant blogpost. More news on this in due course.

A response to the question regarding the parking restriction process was received and is shown (in a condensed form) below:
The original request for action normally comes from the residents themselves. They provide us with invaluable knowledge about who, why, how long and the impact that the problem has on the neighbourhood. This is all gathered by direct contact with the residents themselves and residents groups as well, through questionnaires and at times public meetings.

Through this we are able to establish the best way to deal with the matter and again, solution is fed directly back to the residents individually, allowing them to make comment, either voicing their support or objection as they see fit…

There have been a number of schemes where only part of the restrictions have been introduced on certain streets, the rest only being introduced if the residents themselves feel and experience problems mainly through displacement …The feedback from residents has been the decider on whether the restrictions have grown to cover a greater area.

Further Sessions
If you are interested in encouraging the people at your organisation to be active citizens, feel free to get in contact with BFTF (details here). BFTF can help plan sessions or, possibly, facilitate them at your location, free of charge.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

How the Belgians killed and mutilated 10 million Africans

Leopold II(1835–1909) was the King of the Belgians and is chiefly remembered for the founding and exploitation of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken on his own behalf. He used Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, an area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, the colonial nations of Europe committed the Congo Free State to improving the lives of the native inhabitants. From the beginning, however, Leopold essentially ignored these conditions and ran the Congo using a mercenary force for his personal gain. This became one of the most infamous international scandals of the early 20th century, and Leopold was ultimately forced to relinquish control of it to the Belgian government.

Abuses, especially in the rubber industry, included the effective enslavement of the native population, beatings, widespread killing, and frequent mutilation when the production quotas were not met. Missionary John Harris of Baringa, for example, was so shocked by what he had come across that he wrote to Leopold's chief agent in the Congo saying: "I have just returned from a journey inland to the village of Insongo Mboyo. The abject misery and utter abandon is positively indescribable. I was so moved, Your Excellency, by the people's stories that I took the liberty of promising them that in future you will only kill them for crimes they commit."

The Force Publique (FP) was responsible for enforcement of the rubber quotas. The officers were white agents of the State. Of the black soldiers, many were from far-off peoples of the upper Congo while others had been kidnapped during the raids on villages in their childhood and brought to Roman Catholic missions, where they received a military training in conditions close to slavery.

Failure to meet the rubber collection quotas was punishable by death. Meanwhile, the Force Publique were required to provide a hand of their victims as proof when they had shot and killed someone, as it was believed that they would otherwise use the munitions (imported from Europe at considerable cost) for hunting food. As a consequence, the rubber quotas were in part paid off in chopped-off hands. Sometimes the hands were collected by the soldiers of the Force Publique, sometimes by the villages themselves. There were even small wars where villages attacked neighbouring villages to gather hands, since their rubber quotas were too unrealistic to fill.

One junior white officer described a raid to punish a village that had protested. The white officer in command 'ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades ... and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross.'. In Forbath's words:
"The baskets of severed hands, set down at the feet of the European post commanders, became the symbol of the Congo Free State. ... The collection of hands became an end in itself. Force Publique soldiers brought them to the stations in place of rubber; they even went out to harvest them instead of rubber... They became a sort of currency. They came to be used to make up for shortfalls in rubber quotas, to replace... the people who were demanded for the forced labour gangs; and the Force Publique soldiers were paid their bonuses on the basis of how many hands they collected.

In theory, each right hand proved a killing. In practice, soldiers sometimes "cheated" by simply cutting off the hand and leaving the victim to live or die. More than a few survivors later said that they had lived through a massacre by acting dead, not moving even when their hands were severed, and waiting till the soldiers left before seeking help. In some instances a soldier could shorten his service term by bringing more hands than the other soldiers, which led to widespread mutilations and dismemberment."

Adam Hochschild devotes a chapter of his book, King Leopold's Ghost, to the problem of estimating the death toll and finds that many sources agree with the assessment of the 1919 Belgian government commission: roughly half the population perished during the Free State period. Since the first official census by the Belgian authorities in 1924 put the population at about 10 million, that implies a rough estimate of 10 million dead.

An interesting article on why you have never heard this information before can be found here.

See also this Wiki page on the Propaganda War fought over the Congo Free State.

"Free"? - about as free as the democracy in the GDR.

Mutilated children. From King Leopold's Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule,
By Mark Twain, Boston: The P. R. Warren Co., 1905, Second Edition.

Nottingham Inter Faith Council Events 2013

Events being held by the Nottingham Inter Faith Council in 2013:

12 – 3pm Wollaton Park (near the Hall). Family get-together with shared lunch and games for the children. All Welcome.

Dearing Bldg Atrium, Nottingham University Jubilee Campus, NG7 2RD. Photography Exhibition taken by young people.

10am-2pm, Forest Rec

THU 19th SEP : AGM
7 – 8.30pm Friends Meeting House, Clarendon Street, NG1 5JD.

7pm, Karimia Institute, Berridge Road West, Bobbersmill, NG7 5JU. Meeting a multifaith group from Srebrenica (Bosnia)

11.00am Cenotaph, Victoria Embankment.

9.30am to 12.30pm Nottingham Hebrew Congregation, Shakespeare St. “Caeder” hospitality morning with young people of all faiths aged 11 – 16 (Invitation only) (Food Bank collection)

Many events will be organised including old favourites like “Speed Faithing”, “Talent show” etc. Details will be sent out nearer the time.

Progressive Synagogue, Lloyd St. Sherwood. (Details to follow.)

Why Is Lewisham A&E under threat?

BFTF has been distrubed to read reports of proposals to downgrade the high-quality A&E department at Lewisham Hospital in South East London.

So far as BFTF can tell, this is being considered because the South London Healthcare NHS Trust (which runs the Queen Mary's (Sidcup), Queen Elizabeth (Woolwich) and Princess Royal (Orpington) is struggling to meet the PFI payments on the latter two hospitals.

Note that Lewisham Hospital is not part of this financially struggling group.

Politically, there is plenty of blame to spread around here, with PFI originally being championed by the previous Conservative administration, the specific Queen Elizabeth PFI contract being negotiated by the previous Labour administration, and with closure of the excellent Lewisham A&E being used as a sacrifical lamb by the present Conservative Liberal Democrat Coalition to save the struggling Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Of course, while the political parties play their ideological games, and the private companies continue to reap the benefits of inflated or unnessesary PFI contracts, it is the ordinary citizens - particularly the economically disadvantaged people of Lewisham - who stand to pay the price.

Back in October 2012, Matthew Kershaw, the special administrator for the SE London Healthcare Trust was recommending that the Government should pay the "historic debts" of over £200 million and also pay some £25million extra per year to help pay for the millstone-like PFI deals negotiated by the previous Labour administration (BFTF does not know whether this recommendation has been implemented) and also that Lewisham A&E is being downgraded in status.

Cyncially, while the NHS is prevented from using surpluses in one area to subsidise deficits in another (a rule imposed by the previous Labour administration) it is a very different story when cuts are being considered - which is why the excellent, and financially sound, Lewisham A&E is under threat (from the present Conservative Liberal Democrat administration).

According to the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, the reasons for the downgrading of Lewisham A&E are based on a deeply flawed interpretation of data and have not taken into account the very real difficulties that the residents of Lewisham will have in reaching the other hospitals in a timely manner, nor the very high qualiy of specialist care that Lewisham A&E provides, particularly for children.

You can read some of the examples of how data has been (willfully?) misinterpreted in this Word file.

BFTF is fearful that something similar could happen in Nottingham and has sent an email to the local Labour MP and to the local Conservative party saying that they should both be ashamed of the part their parties have played in the causing the present situation in Lewisham.

Related Content:
Campaigns to protect the NHS
Interview with Prof Ian Shaw on the NHS Bill
Report on a Broxtow Save the NHS meeting
Falsification of data at SERCO
Report on a talk on Financial Incentives for Healthcare
Challenging the BBC on their coverage of the NHS Bill
This is what is wrong with the NHS Bill

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Can leeches cure migraines?

BFTF recently read an article in MailOnine by TV motoring correspondent Emma Parker Bowles on her experience using a leeches to cure migraines.

The article (entitled "Gruesome, medieval and utterly bizarre... but leeches freed me from awful migraines") had a number of characteristics consistent with being "psuedoscience". In particular, the following points caught BFTF's attention:

a) Evidence presented does not relate to the condition at hand (migraines)
"In the 1980s, leeches began to be used by reconstructive plastic surgeons needing to remove stagnant blood from reattached limbs, to stave off gangrene. But now there are numerous studies into medical uses for leeches. One found that a single session of leeching – the medical application of bloodsucking leeches – can significantly reduce knee pain caused by arthritis for at least two months. Researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany claimed improvement levels were comparable to those achieved with daily moderate doses of painkillers such as ibuprofen... The secret is in the leeches’ saliva: it apparently contains a large number of analgesic, anaesthetic, and blood-thinning compounds that tackle pain and inflammation, say the researchers."
But these are differnet applications to those that Bowles was using the leeches for (i.e. to stop migraines). Whereas the clinical uses mentioned relate to the use of leeches directly on the area affected, the procedure Bowles was undertaking involved the placement of leeches on the side of the head where they were separated from the brain by the skull. And, in any case, it is unlikely that Bowles was experiencing a migraine at the time the leeches were applied, so it seems unclear to BFTF exatly what the "analgesic, anaesthetic, and blood-thinning compounds" were supposed to be acting on.

Incidentally, the article does not provide references so BFTF cannot check the cited papers themselves, but the German study may be a follow up to this 2003 investigation and another study points out that investigations in to leech therapy are difficult to perform as the patients inevitably know whether they are being treated by leeches or by another method :

"Leech therapy can reduce symptoms caused by osteoarthritis. Repeated use of the leeches appears to improve the long-term results. We have not determined whether the positive outcome of the leech therapy is caused by active substances released during the leeching, the placebo effect, or the high expectations placed on this unusual treatment form"

BFTF can find no reference in the online medical database PubMed for the use of leeches to cure migraines. In fact, internet references seem to largely relate to the MainOnline article itself.

So, in summary, there seems to be no evidence for the efficacy of leeches to treat migraines, not is any plausible explanation for their mechanism of action offered.

b) Wide ranging claims are made
It always makes BFTF suspicious when wide ranging claims are made with no evidence for their efficacy. In this case, Bowles comments that :

"Google led me to Alicja, a Russian/Polish hirudotherapist [leech therapist] with ten years’ experience. She is based in Las Vegas and New York but she has clients from all around the world. She says the secretions from leeches’ saliva can be used to treat the entire spectrum of physiology: blood-clotting, digestion, connective tissue, disease, pain, inhibition of enzymes, and as a treatment for inflammation."

c) No evidence that the procedure worked even in this case
Bowles states that

"I could go for six months without suffering [a migraine], then there would be a whole week of agony"

and that she has not had a migraine since the leech therapy. As the leech therapy appears to have been performed this year (2013) and that the date of the article is 1st June, it is not clear that the frequency of migraines has changed for Bowles.

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