Saving Maternity Services at West Cumberland Hospital

THE POLITICS COLUMN for Whitehaven News and Times & Star, to be published July 24th and 26th 2019

County Councillor Rebecca Hanson, West Cumbria Liberal Democrats

Across West Cumbria there will be joy and relief that 24-hour consultant-led maternity services will be retained at our hospital for the foreseeable future. With this comes a guarantee that anaesthetics and paediatrics will also remain in Whitehaven.

Huge credit is due to both the campaigning groups; to all who worked so hard in the Co-production Forums; to my cross-party colleagues on Health Scrutiny at the County Council; and of course to our outstanding NHS staff from midwives on the front line to many senior bosses, who have all worked to maintain and improve services throughout two years of uncertainty. Without that constant effort, the outcome might well have been very different.

Despite this good news, we must continue to maintain careful vigilance in the future, because this is where we were in 2006, when we last saved our local maternity services. The root causes of our concerns have still not been addressed at national level. The NHS does not have regulatory standards for rural healthcare. National recruitment crises, made worse by Brexit, will continue to cause serious problems, not easily fixed in those areas furthest from our major teaching hospitals. And we are still living in an age where NHS top bosses will not properly acknowledge the risks associated with women being at a distance from consultant-led maternity care.

So what do we need to do? We need to lobby central government on all these NHS issues, which have caused havoc in West Cumbria. The NHS remains under-funded and poorly managed at government level. The problems increasingly evident in the provision of social care, which cause great difficulties for the NHS, have not been addressed despite the promise of the long-awaited white paper from Government.

These problems cannot be tackled when our two major parties are riven by internal differences.

I have only been able to do substantial work on health issues because of the support of my own party, the Liberal Democrats; people who pay their membership fees to fund this activity and have worked hard to get me elected. They have taught me so much from their front-line roles in local government across the country, their involvement in UK policy-making, and their access to experts at national level who understand our concerns and will continue to represent us properly at Westminster under our new leader. We welcome all our new members who are enabling us to do even more.

Cllr Rebecca Hanson
[email protected]

Attachments area

The Mental Health Crisis In Our Schools.

THE POLITICS COLUMN – Liberal Democrat County Councillor Rebecca Hanson writes for this week’s Whitehaven News Politics Column

Published 30th January 2019.

Recent media reports of an adolescent mental health crisis in Cumbria clearly only scratch the surface of the problems our young people are experiencing.

In November 2018 research showed that around one fifth of girls and one tenth of boys aged 17 to 19 have self-harmed or attempted suicide. From my conversations in education and health I suspect that the figures in West Cumbria are significantly worse than this. Even if we only match the national average, we will see around 200 more children each year developing these very serious symptoms of poor mental health.

Liberal Democrats have successfully campaigned in recent years for a higher profile and more funding for mental health services. Very substantial efforts are being made to strengthen and improve CAMHS (the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service), including partnerships with larger regional services and efforts to ensure emotional support for young people is more widely available in the community, but there is a huge national shortage of suitably qualified professionals and there are no easy answers.

Why is this epidemic happening? Some blame social media, and there is certainly work to be done to improve the experiences children have when they explore their feelings of despair online. But I suspect that one key cause is the fundamental transformation in secondary education which has taken place over the last 20 years.

When I started teaching, teachers in West Cumbria secondary schools were recruited for their pastoral as well as their teaching skills. They built strong relationships of trust with school teenagers during extended pastoral activities. It was normal for there to be times in some lessons where children chatted freely and informally. In this environment, children would discuss their concerns about what was going on in their lives, allowing experienced teachers with strong local contacts to contribute helpful comment or take further action.

After 20 years of active discouragement of teachers who don’t stick to formal lesson plans and who focus only on the transmission of academic knowledge, all this is a distant memory. Children’s difficulties may now escalate until they have to be taken out of lessons for treatment or counselling.

In Finland, substantial efforts have been made to preserve a culture in education where both students and teachers have substantial freedom to decide what goes on in their classrooms. A 2018 report showed no increase in the frequency of their adolescent mental health issues.

The Liberal Democrats call for an evidence-based education policy that is developed with and by professionals working on the front line. Substantial additional resources must be provided in schools, accessible without delay, to provide mental health support as soon as possible.

Fundamental Choices

Liberal Democrat column for Whitehaven News, by Elizabeth BARRACLOUGH (President) and Roger PUTNAM (Secretary), published on November 21st 2018.

Elizabeth Barraclough

We are facing a unique combination of crises which will have profound consequences if we do not face up to them.

The immediate crisis is Brexit. We cannot recall any national issue which has so divided both people and politicians. We are entering the final stages of this long debate about our relationship with our European neighbours and our ability to retain a key role in international affairs. Fortunately, as Parliament faces its most important decisions since 1940, it remains possible that our country can save itself from deep, self-inflicted injury.

People now recognise more clearly the full implications of Brexit. National polls and local surveys across Cumbria all indicate that we should re-examine that momentous decision made, with hopelessly inadequate information, in June 2016.

A ‘people’s vote’ will give an opportunity for the whole electorate, including the new generation reaching 18 who will live longest with this decision, to make their final choice. Their decision may not only maintain the huge advantages of membership of the EU, but also ensure the very survival of the UK. Liberal Democrats, committed internationalists, have consistently been in favour of such a vote.

But there is a vastly greater problem than Brexit. Fundamental changes are essential to avert the impending catastrophe of climate change. The problems are most evident in the Arctic regions where ice caps are melting and sea levels rising. At the other side of the earth, this rise is overwhelming Pacific island communities.

We in the west are the main cause of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but we are also, through our scientists and technologists, capable of reversing this process. This must be done now.

We all have a ‘carbon footprint’ ie. how much CO2 we put into the atmosphere through our dependence on fossil fuels. Each time we make a journey by car, bus or train – or worse, by air – CO2 is generated. Our homes are heated mainly by the use of oil or gas. Our food is brought to the shops by transport using oil. The list can go on.

There are solutions, such as major investment in renewables, but this short-sighted government is withdrawing subsidies for solar panels and windpower. Previous governments have proposed a carbon ration to keep the CO2 emissions within safe limits. This could be a really effective measure which would affect the lifestyle of the rich but not touch those suffering from the financial austerity of this government.

One damaging effect of the endless Brexit debate has been the government‘s failure to deal with other key issues of the day such as climate change, which of course can only be addressed by united international agreement, as being initiated by the European Union.

Roger Putnam: The Effects Of Brexit Are Now Much Clearer

Published in the Whitehaven News, 27th June 2018.

I make no apology for returning to the continuing saga of the Brexit process of leaving the European Union. Although this may seem distant and irrelevant to us in West Cumbria, this is not the case. Brexit will have a major impact locally, as well as on the UK as a whole and indeed on the EU itself. What becomes increasingly clear is that leaving the EU is a more complex matter than most of us anticipated.

Astonishingly, two years after the referendum, little progress has been made to finalise the terms of withdrawal and to create new arrangements for working and trading with Europe for the future. We have not finally agreed a fair system for Europeans working here or an effective way to ensure an open border on the island of Ireland when single market arrangements end. The Bank of England estimates that incomes are already around £900 per household lower than forecast in May 2016. The substantial fall in the value of the pound has led to price-increases across the board.

We can now begin to appreciate what will happen when we pull out. Since the referendum, our economy has slowed almost to zero and industrial production has actually fallen in the last 3 months. Productivity has stagnated through lack of investment. We have gone from being the fastest growing economy in Western Europe to the slowest. Recently the President of the CBI, the major body representing British industry, warned that the present situation is intolerable, the level of uncertainty crippling.

The inevitable effects are becoming clear. Major companies are safeguarding their future by planning to move abroad. Airbus has just announced that it may cease production in UK. Many car companies, including BMW, are looking to relocate into the European single market to avoid complex tariff charges. Jaguar Land Rover intend to shift some production to Europe as a hedge against current uncertainty. Banks and pharmaceutical firms are planning similar moves. The massive knock-on effects on jobs and prosperity, even here in the north-west, are obvious.

The longer-term political effects of leaving the EU are just as alarming. Scotland voted to remain in the EU, and simply ignoring their wish to influence the Brexit decisions is a gift to the independence movement. Creating a hard customs border in Ireland will clearly endanger the still-fragile peace process there. The very survival of the EU, which has helped maintain peace in Europe for 70 years, will be at risk if the UK, a bastion of liberal democratic values, withdraws.

Some argue that the will of the people as expressed in 2016 cannot be questioned. However at that time, when just 37% of the electorate voted to leave, the full implications were then not clear. Constitutionally, parliament will make the final decision, but Liberal Democrats believe there should be a “peoples’ referendum” before that, making a judgement on the deal reached by government, and including the option to remain within the EU, which remains the most remarkable example of international co-operation in peacetime in our increasingly divided and dangerous world.

Brexit and the NHS

In this week’s Whitehaven News Roger Putum responds to a letter concerning the NHS and Brexit.

Roger Putnam

To the Editor
Whitehaven News

Letter for Whitehaven News March 19th 2018.

BREXIT and the NHS.

Mr Fisher (Letters March 8th) suggests there is no link between the future of the NHS and the BREXIT decision. Here are three reasons why he is wrong.

Firstly, the NHS and all other public services already face a worsening financial crisis. The ‘leaked’ government figures, produced in January (‘EU Exit Analysis – Cross-Whitehall briefing’), predict a further substantial fall in UK economic performance following BREXIT, with an inevitable knock-on effect on funding for the NHS. The “no deal” BREXIT scenario, under which the UK reverts to World Trade Organization rules, would reduce UK growth by 8%. Indeed, the North-West is predicted to be 12% worse off, the third worst region in the UK. These calculations do not take into account other hits to the economy from BREXIT, such as the cost of adjusting to new customs arrangements.

There is no prospect of Boris Johnson’s predicted £350 million a week BREXIT saving reaching the NHS, as he now admits. Instead, on top of the further funding cuts being imposed on all local authorities responsible for care services (including Cumbria County Council) we are certain to see reductions in central NHS funding as economic performance suffers and the tax take falls.

Second, we note that it is proposed to remove the UK from the current Euratom arrangements. The Euratom treaty allows for closer EU scientific and medical co-operation and the rapid transfer between EU members of vital medical radio-isotopes used in NHS cancer treatments. Why spend years negotiating a less beneficial replacement treaty when we already have an effective system in place?

Third, consider the implications for NHS staffing. Around 10,000 EU nationals have quit the NHS and social care services since the EU referendum, including almost 4,000 nurses and 1,800 doctors. Many more are planning to leave. We can recognise the effects already; simply listen to the views of the professional organisations involved. One dire effect of these staffing shortages will be to make the future of our West Cumberland Hospital even more uncertain.

Lib Dems are now committed to providing the full £4 billion the NHS needs for 2018/2019, funded by a suitable increase in Income Tax, with an ‘NHS Passport’ to guarantee the rights of the other 50,000 EU health and care workers in the UK.

Mr Fisher asks for our Plan B. In fact the country faces a simple decision; Remain in the EU; or Leave. That is still the fundamental choice ahead, as most now recognise. As the damaging implications of Leave become ever more obvious, it would be prudent to re-examine the 2016 BREXIT decision, both at public and at parliamentary level. The patriotic choice is to remain and to play our full part in the European project, instead of staying on the sidelines with minimum influence. Future generations will not thank us if we get this wrong.

Roger Putnam
Secretary, West Cumbria Liberal Democrats
‘Bower Bank’ Irton
Cumbria, CA19 1 TD

Tel. 019467 23361

Key decisions which lie ahead

Roger Putnam writes in the Whitehaven News this week:

Roger PUTNAM  Secretary, West Cumbria Liberal Democrats
Generally in these columns we address matters relevant to us all locally . However there are some current overarching national issues which will have a major impact here. These include the future of the NHS, at present in financial turmoil, and our future UK relationship with Europe. Both are matters which can only be determined nationally but will have far-reaching effects for us in Copeland.
It is clear that the NHS requires root and branch reform. The challenge is to maintain an equitable health system for all, integrated with provision of effective care. This problem becomes more difficult with a steadily ageing population and the wish to give “parity of treatment” for those with mental as well as physical difficulties. The situation is complicated by the fact that provision for social care is the responsibility of Local Authorities, currently suffering the toughest cuts to funding in my adult life time.
All major political parties agree that reform is needed. The NHS remains chronically under-funded. Only the Liberal Democrats have committed to a dedicated new tax to be ring-fenced for the NHS and for social care to take us through the present crisis. However, more funding is not by itself a long-term solution to the problem. For the future, we have to develop a new, fully-integrated health and care system. Lib Dems have actively supported a cross-party Health and Social Care Convention, ensuring long term stability of funding and resources to provide such an integrated system. This should make sensible provision for the special needs of areas like ours, where health and hospital resources are so stretched.
Part of the problem for the NHS, especially for staffing, is directly related to current uncertainty over our future UK relationship with Europe. It is astonishing that 12 months after triggering the move to leave the EU, the government position remains unclear and inconsistent. Senior ministers constantly give out contradictory messages. If we want to gain full control over our borders, we are bound to have to leave the single market, which ensures freedom of movement for capital, trade, services and employment across the EU. We cannot, as the Foreign Secretary seems still to think, “have our cake and eat it.”
It becomes ever clearer  that we will pay a heavy price if we leave the EU, and especially if the UK withdraws completely from the Customs Union. The warning signs are many. They include recent comments by foreign car manufacturers about future investment; the future relationship between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic; concerns about employment safeguards, environmental, health and safety standards. Even the most recent government figures show that any new trade arrangements with Europe will be substantially worse than those we enjoy now. The problems of the NHS will be even greater.
This is why Lib Dems continue to argue, unlike Labour and the Conservatives, that before making this irreversible decision the public as well as Parliament should be asked for their final judgement on the effects of this damaging step. It is only fair to do this. This decision will affect every one of us.

Chair Elizabeth Barraclough in the Whitehaven News this week:

Liberal Democrats seek to create a fair, free and open society, which balances the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community. But our community can only flourish if members accept responsibilities as well as rights.

We can find many examples in our daily lives where we are responsible for enabling services to work more effectively. Take recycling of rubbish. The council asks us to separate out rubbish that can be re-used, so we have a paper bin and we put plastic, metals and glass ready to be separated and reused. Only with our help can these services be effective, and pollution of our rivers and seas be avoided.

Can we by responsible action save costs in other services as well? The service that is struggling to meet the growing needs of the community, after 75 years from the original 1942 report by the Liberal economist William Beveridge, is our much respected NHS. Almost every day we hear of funding difficulties somewhere in the country but we should recognise that much of the NHS budget is spent treating conditions caused by our lifestyle choices.

The cost of treating diabetes each year is £12.5bn, a tenth of the total NHS budget. Treating  liver diseases costs £3.5bn and smoking, despite the huge drop in the number of smokers is still costing more than £5bn to treat the diseases it causes. The NHS will always treat disease wherever it occurs and whatever the cause, but we can all  help to reduce the pressure on the service by choosing a better diet and lifestyle, whilst at the same time enjoying our lives more.

What we really need is help and information from Public Health services but don’t expect much as Public Health has recently been given back to under-funded local councils but without provision of any additional  funds. So can we within the community in our own lives each make the changes that will help the NHS and make living more enjoyable?

Can you as a parent replace the coke and fanta your children drink by water or orange juice and only have chips on special occasions? Can you personally see a way to live more healthily and enjoy feeling fit?

Christmas is an appropriate time to examine again how we can all find ways to strengthen our communities. Not just by giving to the multitude of good causes which appeal to us for help at this time, but also by making adjustments in the way we co-operate with each other in our local communities to help them operate more effectively.

Despite all the setbacks and difficulties which politicians of all parties seek to tackle, much will always remain the responsibility of each individual.

West Cumbria Liberal Democrats wish all your readers a Happy Festive Season!

For more information, contact the West Cumbria Lib Dems on 01768772771 or on the website at

Maternity Care in Whitehaven – Ongoing Concerns

Cllr. Rebecca Hanson writes in the Whitehaven News today:

During the Success Regime consultation on local Health Services earlier in 2017 I published a report highlighting the substantial risks which will be created if consultant-led maternity services in Whitehaven are closed and hundreds of women each year are required to travel an hour or more to Carlisle to give birth.

In May I was elected as a Liberal Democrat County Councillor and I joined the Health Scrutiny Committee – giving me the opportunity to cross-examine health bosses. I recently used this position to have it publicly confirmed that the Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) will still make the decision on whether or not to end consultant-led maternity care in Whitehaven without taking fully into account the risks that ending this service will create.

Consultant-led care will end if safe medical staffing in Whitehaven is not deliverable and sustainable. This is madness. Clearly there are risks associated with having fragile staffing in Whitehaven, but these are risks we have been living with for years already, and they are small compared with the risks arising when large numbers of women have to travel long distances to give birth. The newly established Independent Review Group has been requested to assess the risks associated with women having to travel to Carlisle or Barrow, but as I understand it there is then no route by which any comments they make can influence whether or not consultant-led care ends in Whitehaven.

In March the Health Scrutiny Committee referred the decision on maternity care to the Secretary of State for Health (Jeremy Hunt). We are now expecting Hunt’s decision any day. Before he took office in 2013, proposals to close maternity services where significant numbers of women would have to travel over 20 miles were refused by the Secretary of State on safety grounds. However, since 2013 all referrals on the closure of services have been rejected without the cases associated with them being heard.

Jeremy Hunt could act to ensure that there is a mechanism by which the closure of consultant-led maternity care in Whitehaven can be prevented if this is found by the Independent Review Group to be much more risky than keeping services open. If he fails to do this it is essential that our local action groups work quickly to challenge his decision in the courts and I would strongly encourage everyone to support and encourage them.

At the Working Together Group last Thursday it was suggested that the CCG could intervene to establish that the decision about whether or not to close consultant-led care will be made on the basis of which option presents the least risk to mothers. If Jeremy Hunt refuses to address this issue it is essential that the CCG does so rapidly and publicly if they want to demonstrate that they are serious about acting in the public interest. They could, in doing so, prevent a high-profile legal battle which will further damage public trust.

Where are we now with Brexit?

Roger Putnam writes in this week’s Whitehaven News:

It is over 12 months since the UK voted narrowly to leave the EU, and 5 months since Mrs May triggered Article 50, setting the 2 year deadline for BREXIT for March 2019. Yet we see little progress in deciding the precise form that BREXIT should take.

We have still to agree on the rights Europeans in Britain and British residents in Europe should retain. The future of the border on the island of Ireland is deeply contentious. The size of the so-called UK ‘exit bill’, the amount the UK should pay for commitments already entered into, is highly controversial – not helped by juvenile comments from our Foreign Secretary, about ‘having our cake and eating it’ or suggesting the EU ‘go whistle’ for its money. Indeed, the ill-judged approach adopted by our ministerial negotiating team has been superficial and confrontational rather than seeking sensible compromise.

The true cost of leaving Europe becomes steadily clearer. The awesome complexity of ending a 44 year economic and political union, compounded by our serious lack of civil service and negotiating resources, will dominate parliamentary activity, at the cost of other much-needed legislation. The recent EU Withdrawal Bill will be followed by seven other major BREXIT bills in this parliament, covering immigration, agriculture, trade and customs.

The cost of separating from our EU trading partners, currently taking 44% of our exports, is now emerging. Such is the present level of uncertainty, economic growth is slowing dramatically whilst inflation erodes incomes; business and economic confidence and investment are suffering; the pound continues to fall against other currencies; major banks are already setting up alternative office hubs in other European capitals; NHS recruitment is falling dramatically; agriculture is deeply concerned about loss of seasonal European workers and loss of subsidy.

There are also 35 European regulatory bodies needing replacement. New UK bodies, covering medicines, aviation safety and financial services for example, will still need to replicate EU rules to maintain cross-border equivalence. A special issue here in Cumbria is the related decision to pull out of the Euratom treaty, which established the European Atomic Energy Commission. Wisely, the House of Commons Energy select committee is urging the Government to re-examine this, as it would entail disruption of supplies of reactor materials, nuclear fuel and medical isotopes vital for the treatment of cancer. Liberal Democrats are committed to remain within the Euratom Treaty.

These complex issues appear to have been ignored by too many ministers, blithely marching us toward consequences that they appear not to recognise. At the very least, we will require an extended transitional period to sort them all out, as now seems to be accepted by government. This period, in the view of the Liberal Democrats, should include a further public consultation and a comprehensive parliamentary debate including the option to remain within a reformed EU, rather than persisting with this deeply damaging BREXIT process, based on the ‘leave’ vote of just 37% of the electorate.

A final thought, from a recent newspaper letter; “The real monument to those who lost their lives at Passchendaele is not the Menin Gate, it’s the European Union. For the EU has been a damn sight more successful at stopping the pointless slaughter of Europeans.”

An Election campaign like no other.

We are coming to the end of a General Election campaign like no other. The absolutely vital issues in
Copeland, such as the future of our Health and Care services; the possible downgrading of the West
Cumberland Hospital; the desperate difficulties which will be faced by many schools; all these have been
overshadowed by too many over-riding questions about Mrs May, and her hard and negative attitude as
she sets out to determine our future relationship with our European neighbours.

Do not be misled into thinking that only the Conservatives can provide this country and this constituency
of Copeland with a positive and successful way forward. The Tory record on managing the NHS and our
Education service is appalling. And their headlong rush to cut our country off in every way from Europe,
such as reneging on the Euratom arrangements, is utterly wrong.

Our health and care services are in crisis. Schools are facing further massive cuts in funding. Yet this is the
sixth richest country in the world. At the heart of these problems lies the unwillingness of the government
to work towards a fairer society, with a level of taxation right across the community which will fund proper
public services.

The Lib Dems are absolutely committed to making life better and fairer for everyone. Only the Lib Dems
have a credible and costed plan to properly fund our public services and to fix their underlying problems.
Only the Lib Dems are fighting hard to limit the damaging effects of Brexit.

It has been a privilege to work with so many outstanding people in local schools, and in the ongoing
campaign to save proper services at West Cumberland Hospital. I have spent many years working hard
both professionally and personally to make things better. As your member of Parliament I could do so
much more. This election has not been just about one person, our Prime Minister, athough she has tried to
make it so. It is about all of us, the people, our Copeland community and our future together.

Rebecca Hanson
(West Cumbria Liberal Democrats).
Published and promoted by Roger Putnam on behalf of Rebecca Hanson (Liberal Democrats) at Bower Bank, Irton, HOLMROOK, Cumbria CA19 1TD