Friday 24 September 2010

Lessons from the Government: Get rid of people that don't agree with you

I haven't written all week and I'm dead tired. On some new drug that means you pretty much can't sleep even though you want to. Yeah, legal version of speed I guess. So I've mostly been a zombie this week.

Anyhow I haven't posted all week which is a bad habit to sleep into, wow, that was a Freudian slip, I meant fall into. Obviously my fingers are now dreaming of sleep.

Another bad habit is always finding things to bitch about - so please do send me suggestions for positive health stories so I can try to balance the scales a little. But until that point I'm just going to post a list of the 177 quangos that the Government is considering axing.

The ones that are directly relevant to this blog are:

Disability Employment Advisory Committee
Disability Living/Attendance Allowance Advisory Board
Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee

I've linked to what each one does.  The first two listed give independent advice to the Government on how best to help disabled people back into work and eligibility for Disability Living Allowance.

The Government has been getting plenty of stick over the medical test used to assess eligibility for Employment Support Allowance, basically telling people to go back to work when they clearly aren't well enough to do so. And in its emergency budget earlier this year the Government announced measures to reassess all DLA claimants from 2013, a measure that disablity groups are already expressing concern about.

So I must say I'm very impressed with the tactics behind this latest 'money saving' venture. I wish I could just make people disappear who don't agree with something I've said. Unfortunately I'm not the Government, so I can't use cost-cutting excuses as a reason to disband committees that might have something to say about its continual policy attacks on the disabled community. I'ts really rather ingenious on the part of this wonderful Government.

And that's all folks. I think I need to S L E E P.

Friday 17 September 2010

A progressive government: Schizophrenic man who has just spent 6 months in mental institute told to find work

I heard of this story yesterday via Twitter (yes I am a convert) and I thought it worth sharing - mainly because it only happened this week and it shows that the much-derided medical test for ESA is affecting real, vulnerable people now - it's not just a dry political argument with which to bandy insults at Prime Minister's Question Time.

A man with Schizophrenia has just been taken off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and put onto Job Seeker's Allowance. Earlier this year he was discharged from a mental institution where he had spent the previous six months. He is now living in residential accommodation, which in itself shows he is not yet healthy enough to live a fully independent lifestyle. He has also not worked for 10 years.

The real shock behind this story is the way in which this change has happened. He was asked to attend a medical test which is administered by a company called ATOS, who have the contract from the Government's Work and Pension department. A person has to score over 15 points to be deemed eligible for some form of ESA. This man scored 0. Yes, you read that correctly, ZERO. As he has a clear diagnosis of a severe mental illness this score tells me either that ATOS doesn't recognise the debilitating nature of a mental illness or its test criteria are entirely inadequate for unearthing the effects of mental illness on a person's capacity to work.

Either way the man has been moved from ESA straight onto JSA - he has not even been moved to the lower rate of ESA which would mean he would have been given greater support on how to go about preparing himself for work and identifying which employers are accepting of a long history of mental ill-health and unemployment. How is a job centre employee with basic training on how to get the average Joe back into work going to know how to deal with a schizophrenic not yet capable of fully independent living?

I'm beginning to warm to the Work and Pensions minister Ian Duncan Smith, he seems to be intriguingly genuine in his desire to reform our benefits system so that, in his words, people don't get left behind. And clearly the man of our story has been left to languish for ten years on incapacity benefit. But it's obvious the current welfare reduction drive is more focused on reducing the cost of welfare than exercising any common sense or, dare I say it, empathy towards those with long-term ill health.

Rumours are going round Twitter that Ian Duncan Smith has threatened to resign 12 times since taking office due to consistent, unyielding clashes with the Treasury. With stories such as this schizophrenic man surfacing, it seems clear that the battle is far from over between government members who just wish to reduce the cost of welfare and those who wish to reform welfare to help those who are on it achieve a better life.

I can only hope that the schizophrenic man in question appeals the decision so that at the very least he is awarded lower rate ESA and given proper support in finding work. If not, he clearly has very little chance of ever gaining employment and will be left to live in even greater poverty than before. That's a 'progressive' government for you.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Will toddlers on anti-psychotic drugs be the future for the new NHS?

Great article I read last week in the New York Times about the increasingly prevalent use of psychotic drugs to treat toddlers. Yes you read that right. An 18 month old was put on an anti-psychotic drug for throwing temper tantrums. And this isn't an isolated case.

Admittedly, this is America, where the use of mental health drugs on children is much more widely practicised, and it's easy to read this piece and say 'Thank God that's not our country'. BUT what really struck me in this piece, and which should act as a harbinger for the UK, is that those who are poorer in the US are more likely to be put straight onto a mental health drug rather than time be taken to provide talking therapies or more in-depth diagnoses.

And as our country's politicians are considering changes to the NHS that could see the creation of a two-tier health system - one level of service for those who can pay and another level for those who cannot - such stories as this should act as both a case study and a warning.

Last December a US research team found that those kids on Medicaid, the health cover provided by the US state for families on low incomes, were four times more likely to be given antipsychotic medication than children who were privately insured. The reasons given by the researchers for this disparity were partly because Medicaid often pays less for counselling than private insurers do and because the waiting time to see a psychiatrist who accepted Medicaid patients was so long that medication felt like a better option.

Turning back to the UK and the great charity Rethink found that only 1 in 6 mental health patients received all the treatments recommended by NICE, with over half of people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder NOT receiving psychological therapies (such as talking to someone) as recommended.

It seems the UK already has a problem providing access to non-medication treatment for mental health issues, and I'd hate to see this worsen due to cost implications and waiting lists. But for a government that wishes to hand over funds to GPs and effectively privatise hospitals allowing them to seek income from the NHS or from private patients at a ratio they chose (creating long waiting lists for NHS patients and budget-conscious GPs who may feel compelled to prescribe the cheapest option) I just can't see how those who are poorer in society will have a chance to choose their mental health treatments.

In the future, I'd hate to read about UK toddlers heavily medicated on anti-psychotic drugs but I wouldn't be surprised at all.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

How belief in good luck brings us good luck

So if August was measured in terms of bad luck than I think I'd be up there for some kind of award (a few giant buckets of gin and tonic would be a suitable prize if anyone wants to send it my way). I don't need to tell you what's been going wrong, mainly because its September 1st and I've decided that August is the month of bad luck and September the month of good luck.

But as my boyfriend points out this concept of good luck and bad luck makes no sense to someone, who like me, purports to be rational. So it got me thinking whether our concepts of fate, luck and the belief that life can't always stay bad is an inbuilt coping mechanism we deploy in bad times to create our own light at the end of the tunnel?

recent psychological survey found that superstition improved performance across four key areas: memory, sporting tasks, intelligence test and motor dexterity. For example 41 students were told to bring a lucky charm with them and performed a memory task either with the lucky charm to hand or when it had been removed from the room.  Those with their lucky charm performed better at the memory task than those without it.

So I suppose it shows that if we believe we can do something than we are more likely to be able to achieve it. And 'luck' seems to be our way of externalising our own self-belief, allowing those with less confidence to still achieve their dreams. Perhaps, conversely, it also means that bad luck does not 'belong' to us either, and therefore is something we can 'shake off' and move on from.

So lets see if September does bring me better luck. I suppose the belief that something has to change for me, that such bad luck can't continue, is actually my own way of not giving up, of not falling into a mire of doubt and inactivity.

Anyhow, I might write more on this at another date and tie it back into health issues and the NHS. But for now I'll sign off as I'm off to hospital (hopefully just as a day patient) to start some intravenous antibiotics tomorrow (ivs) and fancy getting an early night.