Letters, April 11, 2013

PUBLISHED: 09:56 11 April 2013 | UPDATED: 09:56 11 April 2013

Failings in mental health services

SIR – I would like to thank Kim Broadley for having the courage to write about the poor state of care from local mental health services.

I too was in their care 10 years ago for a depressive disorder. To cut a very long story short I will give just some examples of my experiences:

An A&E nurse telling me to do a better job of killing myself next time; at Albany Lodge I sat in reception alone for four hours before being booked in while staff were chatting in the staff room; a nurse says I won’t have depression if I accept God as He will forgive my sins; a nurse says I cannot have been depressed as a child because children are too busy playing; being regularly given the wrong medication or none at all; staff completely ignorant of the fact medication has side effects; going for days at a time with no entries made in my in-patient notes; staff taking patient deliveries of milk and food for themselves; night duty staff asleep; bullying and humiliation of patients; psychiatrist telling me to leave my ward round because of “unhelpful input”.

I had said I was unwell; psychiatrist saying it would be better if I was at home if I’m suicidal; psychiatrist telling me there are things in the hardware shops I can use to kill myself; a nurse says they have no time for attention seekers there (she was referring to self-harm); I never had a care plan; I was made extremely ill on medication I could not tolerate and was refused pain medication; a psychiatrist told me and my representative an important meeting that week had been cancelled. It hadn’t and she told others who attended I had not bothered to turn up.

I spoke to someone from the advocacy service, who are supposed to represent patients’ concerns. I was told they knew all about this hospital and associated mental health services, as they get many complaints from patients but recommended I didn’t complain as my life will be made worse and treatment may be withdrawn.

I did complain and was told I will never have treatment again no matter how bad I feel. My diagnosis was changed to personality disorder as this is untreatable. My notes had examples of violent behaviour against me which were fabricated. When I was in crisis Albany Lodge refused to admit me. My notes for that day however stated I had been offered care but refused.

I fought the complaint for six years totally alone. The hospital, MHS and PCT all refused to investigate. I had to resort to the Health Ombudsman who upheld all my complaints and issues listed after a three year investigation. I had no apology and nothing changed. No one was disciplined, struck off or even given “words of advice”. It’s been business as usual. The few decent staff did nothing to help and kept quiet. They are just as responsible for what goes on in my book. I had to go out of area for treatment and was diagnosed with PTSD relating to my time with St Albans mental health services. If it had not been for a change in GP surgery and finding Dr De Banks at Harvey House Surgery I would not be here now. My thanks to her.

It does not surprise me that nothing has changed but that doesn’t make it any less tragic. Lives are still being lost but, unfortunately, unlike other areas of medicine, no deaths or death rates are recorded for hospitals or doctors in the mental health field. Patients don’t matter and the staff know it. My thoughts are with Kim and all the hundreds of others who I know have and are still suffering.

KIM THORNTON

St Leonards Court, Sandridge

No parity in fees

SIR – Having noticed the letters in the Herts Advertiser (March 21) about disabled parking fees, I would like to let the paper know that when my cousin was in hospital at Tolworth I Googled Tolworth Hospital to find out where it was and the parking arrangements.

I was amazed to find it was one of a group of four hospitals and parking for the disabled was free and the parking for all visitors was free, the only condition being that a parking permit was collected from reception and displayed on the car. Surely if these four hospitals can allow free parking for all, our local hospitals do not need to charge for disabled parking.

J HIPGRAVE

Harvey Road, London

Rugby players worth admiring

SIR – During times when, according to the national press, you very often hear about some of the worst things that rugby players get up to, it was quite heartening in this past week to hear two stories concerning rugby players and their achievements which gave me a positive glow and made me realise what members of the rugby community can admire.

The first concerned five players of a club I used to play for, the Old Verulamiums. This group of players are making another trip to a school and orphanage in Rwanda where they will coach rugby, cook dinners, decorate and generally befriend impoverished children. Basically they are doing this in their own time and funding themselves.

Very commendable and I know they are looking for help in fundraising so if anyone feels they would like to contribute to help them, contact Antony Hayes on antony-hayes65@yahoo.co.uk

The second story concerned the case of two Saracens rugby players who encountered a lady with children who had run out of petrol in St Albans.

Acting like two Good Samaritans, they not only offered to go and get her fuel for her vehicle but even offered to pay for it! Needless to say she was gobsmacked. How often would we just pass by? Two touching stories which show the more positive and helpful side of humanity and rugby members which perhaps should be more highlighted than the negative stories we hear.

ANDY MOWER

Stanley Avenue, St Albans

A question of ethics

SIR – As a district councillor myself with planning expertise provided through public funds, I believe that your correspondents (Letters, April 4) are correct to question the ethics of sitting councillors being paid significant sums of money, to provide planning advice to commercial organisations.

Unfortunately, we have numerous examples of developers throwing pots of money at the planning process and eventually getting their way.

Taxpayers would dearly love to benefit from that same advice themselves, but having already paid (through taxation) to educate that councillor, why should they then have to pay again to get advice due to them anyway through the democratic process? Instead of charging their “services” out to anyone willing to pay them enough money, perhaps those councillors should be putting more effort into advising residents of their right to information and advice on the planning process, prior to the next application they either wish to input or object to.

I have found planning process ignorance to be a significant issue in my ward and I suspect it is true across the district. It’s time the balance was redressed – if one of your councillors is using their publicly-funded knowledge and experience to benefit financially, while also benefitting other interests against ordinary taxpayers, then vote them out next time they’re up for election.

Councillors are legally obliged to state their commercial interests online on the district council website under “Register of Interests” and at county council website under “Financial Interests”, which you can easily check.

CLLR STEVE BOWES-PHIPPS

Park Street Ward

Curo Park, Frogmore

SIR – I would like to assure S Webber and others who have been concerned about recent coverage of Cllr Chris White’s work with construction companies, that at no point has Cllr White broken any rules, or acted against the law in the assistance he has given to companies seeking to gain planning permission.

Councillors do not give advice on planning matters to companies looking to build in the area they represent.

Cllr White through his team at a PR agency has simply made money giving advice on planning matters outside the district. When builders like Helioslough look to get planning permission in St Albans, they get “loophole and strategy” advice from councilors who live outside the district. A sort of “you can’t toilet on your own doorstep” arrangement.

In the same way that our MPs acted “within the rules” whilst claiming their expenses a few years ago, Cllr White has been “above board” and “within the rules”.

One may like to ask other questions though, about the wisdom and appropriateness of his chosen activities. We are assured that being a councillor on an authority is extremely time consuming, yet Cllr White still finds time to sit on both the district council (evening meetings), and county council (daytime meetings), and lead a team of “loophole specialists” at his PR agency!

Also, if a builder is looking to build in St Albans, and local people are against the scheme, when they turn to Cllr White, he may have to say “Sorry, I’m advising that company elsewhere”, and so the local people are left to be outraged alone, without his help. This would be within the rules but not the spirit, of public service.

Is this why Cllr White is much quieter on the rail freight scheme in Park Street than many of his colleagues? As he is a specialist and professional in planning matters, shouldn’t he be leading the fight to defend our district? Or is he not allowed?

It is very efficient of Cllr White to use his taxpayer-funded training to secure a high position in the planning permission world, but perhaps he should go back to accountancy, or stand down from the council?

MATTHEW PECK

Hadleigh Court, Harpenden

Shoddy state of road repairs

SIR – I write to complain about the total waste of money being spent on “pothole repairs” in and around Harpenden.

Some repairs were done recently at the lower end of Welbeck Rise where the upper surface of the road had disintegrated. This had been in a bad state for some time with many vehicles driving in the centre of the road to avoid the depressions. Those holes have now been over filled with tarmac and not tamped down correctly, which means we now have to contend with bumps as opposed to holes. Someone is clearly not doing their job correctly, firstly the repairs are not of a professional standard, secondly who approved the repair?

What is also hard to understand is that within a few hundred yards further up the road there are more potholes, equally as bad as those with the attempted repairs. Why on earth were they not done at the same time?

I fully understand that there are many repairs needed within the district, my simple point is this. Having taken the trouble to send workmen, with the tarmac, then make sure the job is done correctly. This will save money in the long run and avoid a second visit to reinstate the original work – where is the quality control?

PETER WILSON

Mons Close, Harpenden

More of the same

SIR – Now that the local elections are almost upon us, Harpenden residents would do well to remember the following:

Station Approach is still a disgrace and bears more resemblance to an inner-city slum or a third world country than a pleasant Hertfordshire town. One would be hard pressed to find a filthier station approach anywhere! Anyone who doubts this comment should take a long, hard look at the thousands of fag-ends, plastic cups, fast food wrappers and general filth lining both sides of the road.

The entire road, including the retail units, has been allocated to a taxi company whose drivers continually and totally ignore all parking signs and restrictions. They double and triple park their cabs where they choose and woe betide anyone who dares to object.

As we all know, it is not possible for town residents to use Station Approach to pick up/drop-off friends and family and this disgraceful and dangerous situation is very well known to the town clerk and local councillors who choose to do nothing.

Twelve months ago I was advised by a local councillor that the much needed double yellow line for the bottom end of Amenbury Lane had been approved. The dangerous situation had been recognised, I was told, but might take up to six months to be actioned.

Twelve months on we still have no double yellow line and the same local councillor now tells me that he does not know when it will be actioned.

Either:

A. Local councillors are completly “ toothless “ and are unable to bring about any needed improvements to our town.

If this is the case it does not matter who we vote for!

or

B. Local councillors are not overly interested in taking the action to bring about much needed improvements to our town.

If this is the case it matters very much who we vote for!

I, for one, will not be voting for “more of the same”.

VICTOR LOWRY

Amenbury Lane

Harpenden

Blue Badgers are under fire

SIR – George Osborne’s driver and John Terry are alive and well here in Harpenden – albeit in disguise.

The number of times in recent weeks apparently able-bodied drivers have been spotted occupying Blue Badge parking spaces reserved exclusively for people with disabilities is beyond count and parody. No penalty tickets have been issued because official enforcement is euphemistically known as “light touch”.

Human nature being what it is, this sociopathic behaviour will probably continue and escalate until and unless St Albans District Council gets around to remarking the Blue Badge spaces with bright corporate blue and yellow gloss, and erecting visible/readable signs, and the NCP enforcement officers do the job they are legally contracted to provide.

Talking of St Albans, there’s been plenty of angst and froth about the West Herts NHS Trust’s clumsy proposal to introduce charges for Blue Badgers in the hospital car park. The new CEO Samantha Jones walked straight into the wasps’ nest on her first day in charge and immediately put the plan on hold while the trust consulted its “stakeholders”.

The problem seems to be that central government is reducing their income; clinical demands and therefore their budget is growing; the trust says it is moving towards a deficit; and the car park doesn’t pay its way.

This may be the unforeseen outcome of their contract with CP Plus who manage (and clearly profit from) site security and parking, but they are locked into a confidentiality agreement so can’t back what they say with hard financial evidence.

Is it wildly optimistic to predict that the “listening exercise” will reveal a majority in favour of the status quo – free unrestricted parking for anyone displaying a Blue Badge, even if it’s a fake or being used unlawfully?

Probably not, but that doesn’t mean the trust will necessarily change its mind. Board members may look enviously at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage and the Luton and Dunstable Hospital where decisions to levy a charge for Blue Badge parking were implemented a couple of years ago.

However, at least theirs is a two-way contract with pay-on-exit machines which accept notes and cards and charge for time spent rather than an unfair flat-rate; plenty of rubbish-free and clearly marked bays with smooth surfaces, good signage and strong lighting; and visible uniformed enforcement.

None of the above applies at St Albans Hospital. Conditions will probably only change if the trust resolves to introduce a charge for Blue Badge parking with a commitment to improve the “parking experience” for disabled people or if it continues its free Blue Badge parking policy at the expense of higher charges for able-bodied drivers, so what’s good for the goose may be less palatable for the gander.

No win all round.

ROBERT HILL

Chairman, St Albans District Access Group

East Common, Harpenden

Design initiative is an inspiration

SIR – We have to thank the insurance company More Th>n for giving St Albans and its people an extraordinary promotion in its current advert. It uses the very heart of our city for its thank you tea party.

It is interesting that it focuses on some of our most historic buildings as it sends out a swift message to impart to viewers what St Albans is about. If that advert makes you proud to be an Albanian, you will understand why Look! St Albans uses as its tag line “Inspired by the past picture your future”!

We are looking to inspire prospective developers with our final Design Workshop Report, which we collectively have produced and presented jointly with The Prince’s Foundation to the community on Wednesday, March 20, when we also considered together our next steps.

Look! St Albans is now on the brink of becoming an important first port of call for developers wishing to invest in our city centre. We want to ensure that for generations to come our city centre has numerous new buildings that inspire the same depth of pride as the old and are as durable.

We on the steering group are tremendously proud of the report, and believe it is a powerful document to help this happen. The reason is simple, it has been produced by those who know and love St Albans the best; all those that contributed at the joint meeting and all the many others who have taken part and fed into the report last year. This really is “our” collective report.

At the presentation Nigel Birch of Kingston Smith awarded the best photo prize of £100 to the lady known as “karavann” on our Flickr website. We felt this demonstrates that along with the serious aspect of the neighbourhood planning work we are undertaking, we can have fun at the same time.

Hopefully as the 100 or so people who came to the meeting knew from the time they were given their Neighbourhood Planning in Action passport, which already is being imitated by other groups in other areas, that this community consultation would not follow the old format.

As we all know the design of our buildings and spaces within our city centre has caused so many disputes and arguments over the years. We hope with this golden opportunity, fresh approach, and the goodwill the project has and is continuing to gain will allow us to put all the bad old days behind us.

Everyone that has joined in the Look! St Albans project has probably come to the project from different perspectives, our city centre though is something we all have a stake in and care passionately about its future.

We know it won’t always be plain sailing and collaboration will be the only way.

From the feedback we have been reviewing and the discussions and votes on the night, we clearly have that goodwill and support to become a formally constituted neighbourhood planning group. Work on a draft constitution is at an advanced stage and will be published as soon as possible ahead of our first AGM to which everyone will be welcome.

We want to thank everyone that took part and offered us their time, skills and contacts. With this increasing support and new ideas we will hopefully be able to encourage more of the community to work with us on this truly groundbreaking project.

VANESSA GREGORY

Community project manager

Look! St Albans

Tennyson Road, St Albans

Rip-offs at airport

SIR – Our local airport now charges £2 to drop off and pick up passengers. £2 for 15 minutes!

It also charges £2 for a luggage trolley. This must be the biggest money spinner ever.

Passengers are already charged for using the airport! If all passengers used the free (for half an hour) parking at the mid-term car park, the bus service would not be able to cope.

I don’t remember being charged for dropping off passengers at Heathrow, unless I chose to “buy” a car park. I have quoted this before – Mahon Airport has free luggage trolleys and free drop off: parking fees are also reasonable if you have to wait for arriving passengers. Not so at rip-off Luton. And cameras watch you if you try to beat the system.

This all stems from the original poor design of the parking and road system at the first revamp of the airport. Nothing has changed, at each attempt to fix it, it only gets worse for the customers.

MW COWELL

Bloomfield Road, Harpenden

Speedwatch works

SIR – I read your article about volunteers to be used to tackle speeding drivers with interest and not a small measure of frustration. The new Police and Crime Commissioner, David Lloyd, appears to have failed to do his homework before launching “the first initiative from his crime plan”?

Perhaps I could introduce him to Speedwatch, an initiative launched by the Hertfordshire Police a year or so ago in response to residents and local businesses expressing concern about speeding vehicles.

There are already in action across Hertfordshire teams of volunteers who have been vetted and trained by the police to set up speed checks; carry out the checks at locations already selected by residents and checked by the police; wear high-vis jackets printed with Speedwatch on the back, use warning signs and a mobile speed indicator device (SID); have been trained, as lead volunteers, to use the Police National Computer to access the necessary information about speeding vehicles; prepare letters warning about excess speed for the police to sign.

Speedwatch is linked to Neighbourhood Watch, Pub Watch, Farm Watch, Horse Watch, Dog Watch. All of these activities rely on the same “workforce” – local residents, concerned about their community’s environment, working closely with the police.

Why try to reinvent the wheel Mr Lloyd? By all means acknowledge and augment the Speedwatch activity by providing the funds for the training and equipping more volunteers, but please don’t change a clear and explicit title like Speedwatch for a vague and ungrammatical phrase like Drive Safe.

JEAN GATEHOUSE

Neighbourwood Watch ward coordinator

Palmerston Drive,

Wheathampstead

Political musings

SIR – Cllr Geoff Churchard’s verbose 700 word letter (April 4) is a prime example of how the Liberal Democrats and Conservative groups in the county council spend more time in scoring points over each other rather than running the council for the benefit of the community. It is time for a change and for common sense to prevail.

JOHN STOCKER

Nomansland, Wheathampstead

SIR – I understand that Sandy Walkington is offering himself to the electors as a prospective county councillor as well as being a prospective Parliamentary candidate. The county election to take place in May this year for a four year term with the parliamentary election taking place in May 2015.

Prior to the 1997 general election both myself and Anthony Rowlands were county councillors in St Albans and both of us were Parliamentary candidates again for St Albans and both of us made it quite clear publicly that we would not be carrying on as county councillors in the run up to the forthcoming general election.

I cannot speak for Anthony but I wanted to be clear that my commitment was as Parliamentary candidate for my home city. I know that being a county councillor takes about two days a week to effectively discharge your responsibilities. I also know that being an MP is more than a full-time role – I’ve done both!

To be fair to Sandy Walkington he has been relentless in his pursuit of potholes in roads – a county responsibility – so I can understand him wanting to gain more influence over that particular issue.

He should make his mind up which prospective role he wants to give his commitment to, he can’t do both.

KERRY POLLARD

Cottonmill Lane, St Albans

SIR – Am I wrong to believe that the Labour party should be supporting affordable and social housing?

I was therefore, extremely surprised to hear that a local Labour district councillor does not support the proposed housing which is making use of derelict garages in Telford Road. I have seen the plans and I understand that the problem lies with the shared pathway/road. I am reassured that this will produce less traffic travelling at slower speeds and would not be unsafe.

It does seem strange that a Labour councillor should be trying to put obstacles in the way of social housing. Development of such an eyesore, surely has to be more favourable than developing our valuable Green Belt.

ELIZABETH WINSTONE

St Anne’s Road, London Colney

Westfield’s future?

SIR – I would like to question why it is that time after time Westfield Recreation Ground is overlooked in comparison to its counterparts, Batford Park and Rothamsted Park.

The area itself is situated in the heart of the Westfield community; it offers green space and play equipment to many children and young families from a variety of different backgrounds.

I therefore find it baffling that Harpenden Town Council makes the consistent decision to award new play equipment to parks and recreational areas that are in less need.

It is actions such as this that result in Westfield Residents feeling as though they are the poor relations of the town.

Our needs, it seems, are shunned in favour for updating perfectly adequate equipment.

For the years 2012/2013 HTC allocated £3,140 for all playgrounds and play areas. I would sincerely hope that in the interest of fairness alone HTC will be looking for ways to improve Westfield Recreation Ground.

I have been a resident of the Westfield community for my whole life, I have many happy memories of playing on both sets of play equipment that have stood on Westfield Recreation Ground and I remember with clarity the hard work of our community to raise money for the equipment that is in place now.

For the years 2012/2013 HTC allocated £11,120 to Westfield Recreation Ground and on February 4, 2013, the full council made the decision to increase the yearly budget by over 26 per cent, with such a substantial increase it would appear Harpenden Town Council has plans for the Recreation Ground.

I look forward, as I’m sure the rest of the community does, to seeing what the next two years hold for Westfield Recreation Ground.

C KNOWLER

Westfield Road, Harpenden

The rise of UKIP

SIR – This week we have seen the biggest shake up in the welfare, tax and benefits system since its inception. Whatever people’s views, there will be as many “fors” as there are “against” – and whether the changes work, time will out.

In a few weeks time, the county council elections take place and the people of St Albans will have their chance to vote. These elections are a perfect opportunity for protest voters to give the presiding Government of the day a bloody nose – and although fought on local issues, it would be silly to deny that one eye isn’t on the national picture and the fact that we have a General Election in just two years time.

I am a true floating voter but cannot help but observe the emergence of a group hailed as nothing but a protest party when it formed back in 1993. With a single policy message, “Get us out of Europe,” The UK Independence Party were dismissed back then as cranky, ranked only slightly higher on the primordial scale of electoral candidate sensibility than the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Screaming Lord Sutch, gawd bless his cotton socks, has moved on to that great soapbox in the sky and the MRLP is nothing more than a comic act appearing in just a handful of elections where they can raise the deposit.

However, UKIP have grown up and also grown cahunas. Not only that, they have become excellent communicators with a raft of common sense policies far more reaching than the single European issue they emanated from. Now, just 20 years after inception, they have a real and tangible power base, dedicated field marshals across all regions and an infrastructure focused on achievable electoral success.

More importantly, they are striking a chord with key voters sick and tired of the failed old three main parties who use mid-term elections, as they do general elections, to slag each other off having been given the chance to govern but have failed.

I do not know whether UKIP if they were ever afforded power would be any different to the parties who have proved unalloyed failures in the past.

However, and I’m sure many of your readers will agree, their message is compelling – and the more the tired parties do them down just for trying to offer something revolutionary and fresh, the more I feel inclined to cast my vote their way.

Of course people will make their own minds up on May 2, but voters would do well to log onto UKIP’s website www.ukip.org to read what they have to say, not just on the issue of Europe and unfettered immigration, but also, defence, local Government, schools, hospitals and transport.

Having done the same myself, I must say I was impressed – and feel that the colour complexion and voting pattern of St Albans may well reflect dramatic change; where Orange, blue and red has been rudely usurped by the gaudy tones of Farage’s purple. I thank you!

BARRY CASHIN

Green Lane, St Albans


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