Tuesday, 3rd January, 2023

[Day 1023]

So a Tuesday has dawned which means that we enter into our Tuesday routines. After we pick up the daily newspaper, Meg and I go to our local Waitrose because, in normal circumstances, we meet up to three of our pre-pandemic friends here each Tuesday morning. But today, everything seemed unusually quiet and none of our normal friends made an appearance. The counter assistant remarked how quiet the store was and the rest of the town as well, so that it appears that after the New Year holiday and celebrations, it is taking a little time to settle down and things to get returned to their ‘normal’ routines and rhythms. The weather was not particularly cold today but it was certainly wet and blustery and it seems that these conditions would be similar across much of the country as a huge band of rain sweeps its way across the country. So I made my way down to my usual Pilates class and, needless to say, after a gap of a week and filled with lots of Yuletide goodies, we all found that what comes easily to us took that little more effort this week. On my way home, I popped into our local Asda because I wanted to buy one or two of those ‘thin’ type calendars, one of which we hang up in the kitchen to record birthdays throughout the year and the second of which we have in our bedroom more because of custom and habit than any other reason. There was not a great deal of choice but avoiding Disney/cute kittens/puppies, settled on a National Trust ‘Coast and Countryside’ for one location and ‘Baby Animals’ for the other. Tomorrow, Wednesday, is the day when our domestic help calls around and very welcome she will be as we have not seen her for a fortnight. Tonight, I might do a quick scurry around removing some of the Christmas decorations and tomorrow our domestic help and I can ‘undress’ the Christmas tree and this, too, can be put away until next year. I normally spend the minimum of time necessary to decorate the house so that clearing away the decorations can also be done expeditiously when the moment arrives.

At the top of the political agenda today is the most enormous pressure under which hospitals and particularly their A&E departments are facing at the moment, with a flood of potential patients even exceeding those at the height of the pandemic. The political commentators on ‘Sky News‘ are making the point that this is not a sudden emergency but one in which the demands upon A&E has been increasing steadily over the past ten years or so. The point is also being made that up to a third of the hospital inpatients have been certified as medically fit but with the absence of social care provision, there is no place to which these patients can be discharged. A lot of social care was technically provided by local authorities but their budgets have been squeezed and squeezed so much after years of austerity that local authorities can no longer afford to pay. In fact, many workers in the social care sector now find it much more worth their while to leave their employment in social care and enjoy higher rates of pay as a supermarket checkout operator. Meanwhile, much of social care has been privatised and is run by rather nebulous private equity firms who engage in a variety of financial dealings. One such is for the residential homes themselves to be owned by a separate company, often with headquarters in a tax haven, whilst the care home operators have to use a large part of their budget paying ‘rent’ for the use of the residential home building. The story is told, and not offically denied, that in the early days of the pandemic when it was thought that the NHS would be completely overwhelmed that the government called an urgent, top level meeting with the care home industry. The chiefs were told it was imperative that hospital wards be emptied as rapidly as possible with the social care provision providing the care places needed. The are home chiefs replied to the government that they would comply but it would cost (probably in the millions) The government agreed and paid over millions of pounds to the care home operators. Within minutes of receiving large cheques from the governmnt, most of this money was siphoned off into obscure off-shore private equity companies and tax havens never to be seen again. So the solution to this problem is to allow local authorities to run the residential care that they used to do decades ago, fund them properly, pay the staff the relevant rates to constitute a career structure and to fund all of these through increases (steep if necessary) in National Insurance rates. Of course, none of this is going to happen and the sector limps on from crisis one winter to an even more severe crisis the following winter and so on. Meanwhile, the Health Secretary, Steve Barclay, is blaming ‘flu, COVID and Strep A cases which does nothing at all to address the underlying issues outlined above and for which the government have been responsible for the last decade.