> Another encouraging example of grassroots action…
A new group is providing a day centre in Berwick for people with mental health problems after a charity previously running the service pulled out.
Newly-formed peer support group Northern Spirit was set up after a day centre service run by Mental Health Matters was abruptly withdrawn from the town, leaving many people who suffer various forms of mental health issues without this much needed retreat.
Run by a handful of volunteers, the group provides a day centre each Wednesday (10am-4pm) at Wallace Green for those suffering from health problems like depression and anxiety issues.
Around 15-20 people attend per week, and any new members are welcome.
“Our aim is to provide a similar service to those individuals that have been left without this vital retreat from daily life,” explained group secretary Andrew Bird.
“We are currently open one day per week but we hope to be able to increase this to at least two days in the future.”
With just one week’s notice that Mental Health Matters was withdrawing from the town, a group of volunteers scrambled to ensure that vital provision would continue.
“My father attends the group on the basis that he has mental health issues, and he has taken the role of chairman and treasurer,” Andrew said.
“I know how he felt about it being disbanded. I know how much it was affecting him and I had met a couple of other members and saw how they were trying to deal with it.
“We set up the group to continue the day centre and to show sufferers that there are still people out there that do care.
“We did not have anybody with any experience other than the fact that we have dealt with mental health issues, but now we have a fully trained councillor on board. She has volunteered and will be available at the centre for people to talk to.”
Northern Spirit is now trying to source vital funding to ensure it can continue to help people from north Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
“We are a non-profit organisation and rely solely on income from donations and fund raising,” Andrew said.
“As with all organisations like ours we unfortunately have overheads, such as rental of the premises which costs £1500 every six months, and at present we need to raise funds to continue the service past the six month we have already managed to secure the funds for.”
If anyone has any fundraising ideas that could help, or would like to know more about Northern Spirit, go to northernspiritberwick.weebly.com or facebook.com/northernspiritberwick
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 21 Feb 2015
A Seahouses man due to have an operation to repair a ruptured Achilles has been left stranded by new transport to healthcare rules.
Health bosses have changed the transport criteria, meaning some patients are expected to spend over five hours a day on public transport to attend hospital appointments.
Mr Vickers from Seahouses was informed of the change when he phoned to book transport to an appointment ahead of his operation on the 28th of this month.
“I would usually get an ambulance taxi but they told me I couldn’t anymore. The whole thing is ludicrous. Now I’m stuck, I can’t get to Hexham unless I get a private taxi.
“I was even more upset when they said after I have the operation, am in plaster and on crutches, I’m still not entitled to transport to get home.
“We had no idea anything was going to change. They said a new criteria had been brought in and asked all these ridiculous questions like are you blind, are you in a wheel chair, do you get housing benefit. I don’t know how many others have operations booked and don’t yet know about this.”
Berwick’s Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith described the new rules as “grotesquely unfair”.
“People have been told to get from Berwick to North Shields and back on a series of buses with no certainty their treatment will be finished in time for the last bus back to Berwick. Another constituent was told to take a two-and-a-half hour bus journey from north Northumberland to the Wansbeck Hospital for regular injections.
“Elderly widows are being told if they can use a local bus for a 10 minute journey into Berwick they should have no difficulty travelling on several buses to get to the Freeman.
“This is simply not acceptable and creates a huge barrier to healthcare for people in north Northumberland.”
Sir Alan said the situation was “even more insulting” to local people when they are being told they cannot go to Borders General Hospital which has a direct bus link from the centre of Berwick to the door of the hospital.
“This chaos all results from decisions of the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group and the uninformed way the decisions are being implemented in rural areas,” he said.
“It’s clear that people sitting behind desks in urban parts of south east Northumberland have no idea how difficult it is for people without a car or someone to drive them to get to distant medical appointments.
“I have raised this issue with the Chief Medical Officer of the Clinical Commissioning Group and I will be raising it in Parliament, where I have already been taking up the restrictions on cross-border access to health services.”
A spokesperson for the Northumberland CCG said:
“From 20 October 2014, we implemented the Department of Health’s national policy where all new patient transport bookings are subject to a short assessment. The assessment includes asking a few questions about how you would normally travel for day-to-day activities and if friends or family normally take you to your appointments.
“The purpose of this assessment is to make sure that the people who require ambulance services are prioritised based on their health needs and that the NHS is making the best use of the funding it has available. We understand that this can be a frustrating experience and some people who have previously used this service may find that they are no longer entitled to patient transport.
“If this is the case, then the booking service is offering information and advice on alternative forms of transport.”
They added: “We are in the early stages of implementing this process and we would like to reassure everyone that we are continually reviewing issues and concerns raised to make sure a common sense approach is applied.
“We are committed to ensuring that patients who live in rural areas are not disadvantaged by the implementation of the criteria, however, we still need to ensure that this is applied fairly across the region.”
If patients have any concerns, queries, or you are unhappy with a decision, they can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) via Freephone 0800 0320202, by text to 01670 511098 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 06 November 2014
One week from polling day across the border, Berwick is braced for problems ahead if there is a Yes vote for Scottish independence.
With opinion polls indicating that next Thursday’s referendum is too close to call, the establishment of a separate sovereign state north of Lamberton has suddenly become a realistic prospect.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith believes the result “could have profound consequences for Berwick and the Borders.”
But on a visit to the Berwick Advertiser office this week, Ayton-based Scottish government minister Paul Wheelhouse insisted cross-border ties would be largely unaffected by independence.
As media coverage intensifies and the referendum race enters the home straight, international journalists and TV news crews from around the world have been descending on Berwick in droves to gauge opinion in England’s most northerly town.
Business leaders in north Northumberland are waiting and watching with interest. Many of them fear for the future, but most are unwilling to comment publicly about potential problems independence would cause.
Sir Alan Beith, however, repeats Unionists warnings today about currency, border controls and cross-border public services.
“There might be Scottish pounds after independence, but their value would fluctuate below or above that of the English pound,” he writes. “It really would be like changing holiday money, but on an everyday basis.”
He also warns that border checkpoints could not be ruled out if Scotland opts for independence.
“If one of our two nations was in the EU and the other was not, border control would be necessary,” he writes.
“If the UK government had no confidence in the Scottish government’s immigration or security policy, border controls could become necessary.”
Sir Alan also believes cross-border public services would be put at risk.
He states: “It is quite difficult to overcome cross-border bureaucratic obstacles within a single state, but I believe it would be a lot more difficult across a boundary between two sovereign states.”
Mr Wheelhouse, acknowledges that cross-border concerns have been raised by voters on the Scottish side of the border. But the SNP politician, who says he often shops in Berwick, is confident existing arrangements between the Borders and Northumberland would be largely unaffected by independence.
“We have a good story to tell in terms of those relations, and the continuing nature of an open border,” he said.
“Different tax arrangements are common place across Europe in terms of cross-border working and there have been no problems there.”
He also believes an independent Scotland would “hopefully” be able to continue the current relationship between the two health services on either side of the border.
But many members of the public in the Berwick area are unconvinced.
Andrew Martin, 46, from Tweedmouth, fears for Berwick’s economy.
“If Scotland gets its own tax raising powers and decides to set taxes at a lower rate or reduce its own VAT, goods and service would be cheaper just a few miles to the north,” he said.
“Berwick has always been the communication hub for the north of Northumberland and the south east of the Scottish Borders. If things are different on either side of the border it causes a real issue.
“I don’t think the impact on north Northumberland has been properly explored.
“A Yes vote could benefit us on this side of the border. But a No vote and a new devolution plus arrangement could have a real impact.”
So Berwick would benefit from a Yes vote?
“It would really depend whether or not Scotland could raise the funds required to balance the books. If not, tax and VAT would go up. Alex Salmond looks towards Norway, but the have an income tax rate of 50% and a higher rate of VAT.”
Some small businesses in the Borders are understood to have already registered a new address in Northumberland to guard against the prospect of being entangled in red tape in the event of a Yes vote and the potential for economic problems in immediate aftermath.
But on the Northumberland side of the border, most business leaders are simply waiting and watching with interest.
Terence Pardoe is chief executive at Coastal Grains. Based at Belford, the co-operative stores and markets grain for members on both sides of the border.
“We have no view on it until there is a vote one way or another and then have to see what transpires and how it may affect us,” he said.
“If there is a Yes vote, there will have to be a period of re-organisation, and we do not yet know what will be involved in the transfer of centralisation. If there is a No vote, then the assumption is that nothing will change to affect the business.
“It would therefore be a waste of time planning something which we do not know how it will evolve.”
Very few business leaders are prepared to express their fears publicly. Indeed, one of the biggest employers in Berwick told the Advertiser this week that it was company policy not to comment about a “current political event”.
But the Scots who live in Berwick are happy to have their say.
Marion Black, 56, is a Scot who has lived in East Ord for 27 years. She would be undecided if she did have a vote. She also believes the potential implications for Berwick, if Scotland does opt for independence, have been exaggerated.
“I don’t think much would change,” she said. “We’ve had stories like this before. When free personal care for the elderly and free tuition fees were introduced under devolution, people said there would be an influx of people moving from Berwick to Scotland and that house prices would up over the border. But it never happened. The impact won’t be as big as people say.
“In the short to medium term, I don’t think independence would have a big impact.
“I love Berwick and I love living in Berwick. People don’t always move or change their life solely for economic reasons.”
“It’s nice in a way because I’m interested in the debate, but I don’t have the responsibility of making up my mind. My heart says yes, and my head says no. If I did live in Scotland I’d be torn.”
Stephen Hope was born in Edinburgh but now lives and works in Berwick. He is employed by his dad at the Sporran Gift Shop on Church Street, selling Scottish memorabilia to the tourists.
“Independence could be bad for Berwick,” he said. “But it would depend on the strength of the currency Scotland chooses to use. If it is a weak currency, though, the Scots would come over the border to do their shopping, so that might benefit Berwick. it is hard to say. But if I was up there I’d definitely vote No.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 13 Sept 2014
> Despite Iain Duncan Smith‘s best efforts, it appears that we’re not yet dying in great enough numbers, so its time for yet more cuts in services….
Up to seven coroners’ offices across the region will be axed, under cost-cutting plans to scrap those where the number of deaths is “too low”.
Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling is considering a proposal for each coroner area to handle 3,000 to 5,000 cases each year – culling at least 24 across England and Wales.
That would mean about seven disappearing in the North-East and North Yorkshire, where coroners are currently overseeing as few as 340 deaths annually.
None of the 12 offices in the region reach the new threshold, according to 2013 figures – with County Durham and Darlington (2,445 deaths) the busiest.
Hartlepool has the lowest number (340), followed by South Northumberland (428), North Northumberland (656), North Tyneside (758) and York (985).
Merging York with the offices in North Yorkshire Eastern (1,040) and North Yorkshire Western (1,038) would just about reach the 3,000 benchmark.
However, bringing together the much-criticised Teesside office (2,398) with Hartlepool (340) – a proposal already put forward – would still fall well short.
The mergers are proposed in an annual report by the newly appointed chief coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC.
And he wrote: “That number of reported deaths is too low and many areas have only a part-time coroner.
“Each coroner area should have approximately 3,000-5,000 reported deaths each year, with a full-time senior coroner in post.”
The plan, handed to the Ministry of Justice, would see the 99 coroner areas slashed to “about 75 in number, maybe fewer”.
> You can forsee a time when services will have been cut back so much that there’ll just be one coroner for the whole North East. Perhaps just one MP too, as services are concentrated on the London city state.
It is not clear how many coroner courts would close – as opposed to offices – if the merger plan is adopted.
The annual statistics also compare how quickly each coroner’s area completes inquests, on average – revealing Teesside to be by far the slowest still.
In April, 83-year-old coroner Michael Sheffield was finally forced to step down from his role after a concerted campaign by local politicians and others.
Initiatives were launched to clear a backlog of inquests, which take an average of 50 weeks to complete, the annual report shows.
That is much longer than the next slowest area York (36 weeks), which is followed by Newcastle (31) and both services in North Yorkshire (25).
The fastest inquests are carried out in Hartlepool (11 weeks), followed by Sunderland (14), Gateshead and South Tyneside (19) and County Durham and Darlington (24).
Coroners have been reminded of their duty to set dates for inquests at the opening of each case – and for a medical report to be produced within four to six weeks.
They must explain, to the chief coroner, why investigations that have taken more than a year have not either been completed or discontinued.
Source – Northern Echo, 25 July 2014
The next East Coast trains operator must be stopped from cutting Northumberland rail services, county council bosses have said.
Northumberland County Council has joined a growing number of groups to express concern that the new East Coast franchise could see operators allowed to axe stopping services in the county.
In the council’s formal response to the rail consultation, Northumberland councillor Ian Swithenbank warns of service cuts to and from London which would hit the county if a new big-money operator is not forced to match current standards.
He points out that the new franchise would let operators choose to drop the early morning service from Berwick, Alnmouth and Morpeth, which then calls at Newcastle and straight on to London, bringing a business market to the capital.
The return journey faces similar peril. Mr Swithenbank said the consultation document had: “no mention of any requirement to maintain the existing Friday-only 7.30pm from Kings Cross calling, among other stations, at Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick, thus removing an important link from London for weekend visitors and county residents returning late on Friday from the capital.”
There is also no mention of any requirement to provide an evening Monday-Friday departure to Morpeth significantly later than 4pm.
Further service cuts could come on Sunday services to capital. The Government has no requirement for a direct train from Morpeth to London and the number of trains from London to Morpeth is reduced from five to four, a 20% reduction in provision in train service to the county town, which the council says will reduce journey opportunities both for visitors to the county and residents returning from the South.
Backing the council is Berwick Labour candidate Scott Dickinson. He said: “I welcome the intervention of councillor Swithenbank on this vitally important issue for North Northumberland in particular.
“The reprivatisation of East Coast and the decisions taken on the tender specification by the coalition government effectively relegate this important transport link for Northumberland. This will seriously damage our economic prospects.
“The minister needs to answer the questions. My real worry is that the decision to re-privatise East Coast after two private sector failures will end up costing the tax payer more and will lead to a second class service in Northumberland.”
The Department for Transport is set to decide on who should take over the state owned railway this autumn. Bidders include west coast operator Virgin Trains with Stagecoach and a joint bid from Eurostar and French state-backed firm Keolis.
Labour has called for the profitable route to remain in public hands.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 24 June 2014
Students from north Northumberland who travel by train and bus to access higher education courses are facing a devastating financial blow.
A proposal going before Northumberland County Council next week recommends ending free transport for post-16 students, saving £2.4m a year.
It means students would have to pay the full cost where public transport is available or a standard charge of £600 per year for council contracted school transport.
“That would be a disaster for students in the Berwick area who travel by train to Newcastle or bus to Ashington,” said Julie Porksen, the Lib Dem who has campaigned to retain free post-16 transport.
She is equally appalled that pupils from outlying areas about to enter the sixth form will have to pay £600 to use the same school bus they have previously boarded for free.
“Labour’s charges will cause real hardship for many families, especially those in remote and rural areas, raising the cost of living for families with teenagers,” she said.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith added: “This is outrageous discrimination against students in the Berwick area and the more remote parts of Northumberland, and if the Labour council goes ahead with the plan they will be demonstrating a callous indifference to education in rural communities.”
The council is considering the proposal against a backdrop of having to make £65m savings over the next two years.
A report to next Thursday’s policy board states that the current approach to school transport is no longer sustainable and alternative options to reduce costs need to be considered.
It reveals the number of students claiming free transport has increased from 800 to 3500 over the past five years. Costs to the council have increased to £3,3m per year.
It also notes that 40% of students eligible for free transport travel outside of the county with a loss of potential income of around £28m. The report also suggests there could be potential for school sixth forms and colleges extending the range of courses they can offer.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 23 May 2014