Tea for Ten a yummy success!

Yesterday I attended a get together with Monmouthshire constituents titled ‘Tea for Ten’.

The concept is that a party member will invite a number of local people around to their house to enjoy tea and conversation with their local representative.

We covered all areas of politics with lots of discussion on the coalition, as well as issues regarding the local health service.

A special mention must go to Dr Charlotte Jones for hosting the event. One couldn’t expect more from a host, with out plates never empty (due to the amount of delicious cake being on offer!) and our tea cups endlessly being topped up.

All in all, a great success and I look forward to the next one. If you would be interested in hosting a similar event or would like to attend one, please do get in touch!

Paul Burstow on mental health and poverty

Interesting article on how the coalition government intends to address mental health issues in England by Lib Dem Minister Paul Burstow.

Care services minister Paul Burstow writes exclusively for Community Care on the link between poor mental health and deprivation

Writing earlier this summer, the prime minister made a powerful call to action on reducing deprivation in our society.

In a newspaper article, he wrote about “galvanising the whole of the public in fighting poverty”, and the “miserable chain of inevitability” linking family breakdown, worklessness, drug and alcohol abuse and crime with long-term poverty and exclusion.

But, in facing up to poverty, we must acknowledge another truth: that poor mental health is often a key link in that miserable chain.

The facts tell their own grim story. Being unemployed increases the risk of mental illness fourfold compared with those in employment – and once you have a diagnosed mental health problem, your chances of finding or keeping a job are drastically reduced.

This is a classic Catch 22 that has helped to fuel the massive rise in welfare spending over the past 10 years – 42% of the £12.5bn spent on benefits due to illness and disability now goes to people with diagnosed mental health problems.

Even if the deficit did not loom large, this figure should disturb us on a human level – because it shows how the previous government failed to tackle the deep-rooted effects of depression and stress-related illness on our communities.

Depression and other common mental health problems affect six million of us, and recent estimates put the economic cost of mental ill-health at a staggering £77bn a year. Yet this was treated as an afterthought by the last government.

It was only belatedly – and after much prodding by visionaries like Lord Layard [founder and director of the London Scool for Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance] – that it took any real action to prevent poor mental health.

The policies that do exist, most notably in the recent New Horizons strategy, are big on principles but short on detail. As a result, good intentions have foundered on the rocks of poor delivery.

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is a case in point. This is making a tremendous difference in some places – health secretary Andrew Lansley and I visited patients at an IAPT centre in Berkshire last month and heard how cognitive behavioural therapy had changed people’s lives.

Yet slow take-up means many still face long waits for these treatments, and thousands of people around the country are therefore being consigned to months of anguish and uncertainty.

The coalition has already signalled its support for IAPT, committing £70m this financial year to establish more centres around the country.

But I know that’s only a small part of the solution. Because what we really need is a wholesale shift in emphasis to give mental health parity with physical health in the NHS.

Our NHS White Paper – with its plans to replace process targets with a new focus on patient outcomes – will help to achieve this.

Over this summer, we are discussing with patients and clinicians which “outcome” measures should be used to judge the health service in the future.

I passionately believe a person’s general well-being and overall mental health should form part of this assessment. There is no health without good mental health and certainly no well-being.

The fact is we can no longer accept that curing someone of cancer, then leaving them to struggle with depression afterwards is a true mark of success.

The NHS should deal with the full parameters of a patient’s recovery, including helping them return to work and get their life back after illness. That’s what the new outcomes framework should deliver.

We must also draw on a broader canvas in preventing people from developing mental illness in the first place. The new public health service and the health improvement role of local government will help, but this stretches far beyond just health. In fact, it covers all aspects of community life.

First, it involves other public services – from Jobcentre Plus and housing teams through to children’s services and environmental planning, we need to ensure the right support is there to help people stay on track and in control of their lives.

Second, it requires us to empower neighbourhoods, stimulating those active exchanges between people that can have such a healing effect on people and places.

And third, it means galvanising charities and grassroots community groups that can reach out to people on the cusp of depression and draw them back from the brink.

In the months ahead, ministers from the Department of Health and across government will reshape mental health strategy to set clear outcomes and offer a roadmap for delivering them.

Of course, all this has to be achieved in a difficult financial context. But even in these tough circumstances, we can move forward in mental health – and, by doing so, we can land a major blow against poverty and deprivation.

So much to learn about…

One of the tasks I set myself for recess was to get up to speed with as many organisations and professional bodies relevant to my portfolio as possible.  Well I’ve made a start and it has been a big learning curve but incredibly interesting.

Regarding mental health issues I’ve met with Gofal and Mind who have raised the issue  of awareness and the need for an anti-stigma campaign here in Wales which I shall be pursuing.

I saw the British Heart Foundation at the Eisteddfod and heard about the pioneering work being done on childhood obesity in Torfaen as well as the other good work they are doing.  There was the Red Cross delivering services across our communities and Macmillan with their supportive role and practical help for people from when they are first diagnosed with cancer.

The National Deaf Children’ s Society told me about the work they do with parents and children from the moment they learn that their child has a hearing loss. They have a set of brilliant websites and you can actually ‘hear’ what it is like to have a cochlea implant and how a classroom with poor acoustics can have a real impact on the ability of deaf children to learn.  I really like the way the society involves the children from a very young age with expressing their needs and their concerns.

Meeting members of the MS Society in Newport was a real eye opener. What a great bunch of people who come together and talk about anything and everything – not usually Multiple sclerosis!  The work of their specialist nurses has been a godsend to many people living with this condition and it is good to see the third sector working hand in hand with the local NHS services.

I’ve had meetings with the RCN (Royal College of Nursing) and the BMA (British Medical Association), the ambulance trust and a really good visit to Nevill Hall hospital.  The Stroke Unit there was really impressive.

I’ve probably missed some and there are many more to see.  And that’s just the health portfolio!

Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale

Here goes the heart

Here goes the heart!

Great to be up in Ebbw Vale again for another visit to the National Eisteddfod. There’s such a wide range of stands to visit and I particularly liked the science and technology pavillion.  Perhaps it’s a good job I didn’t make medical school when I failed to remove the organs from the ‘body’ very accurately!  This hands on approach really appeals to youngsters and they all seemed to be having a great time.

Maggot race

MPs Simon Hughes and Roger Williams get competitive with maggots!

Next was the maggot race! But seriously – maggots are used to clean up infections ad the BMA stand had some really good examples of how they are used to help patients with diabetes.

The British Heart Foundation explained their targeted projects such as tackling childhood obesity in Torfaen.  It will be really interesting to see the results of this intensive scheme.

Veronica discusses Red Cross projects

The Red Cross explained their project to prevent hospital readmissions with elderly patients.  The project in North Wales had some brilliant results.

I am convinced the third sector will have an important role in delivering services such as these in the future in such a cost effective and patient centred way.

Macmillan provide a fantastic service to people from the moment they are diagnosed with cancer.  Help and advice about benefits and fuel bills as well as the work we all know about helping patients and their families cope with the disease.  Here Becky explains What Macmillan do

Newport High School – a blueprint for excellence


Veronica visits Newport High School and says it's a 'blueprint for success'


I started teaching in 1980 and have worked in many and varied schools, one of which was Bettws High School in Newport. What a thrill it was today to visit the newly built replacement, Newport High School today.

To say I was impressed doesn’t come close. This isn’t just about a badly needed new build, this is a whole new way of raising the expectations of students and staff alike – and then delivering the results.

Anyone who has ever visited the old building knew its limitations – and there were many! This new building makes staff and students alike feel valued and has a lovely airy feel to it. With Year 7 and Year 8 students taught in ‘home’ areas for most of their lessons, the transition from primary to secondary is made much less daunting.

There is a really innovative curriculum structure with Years 9,10 and 11 able to choose options and study subjects intensively for a year and then choose again. The results so far have been outstanding and I’m really looking forward to seeing this year’s achievements.

The strange thing today was that there were no students! They’d all gone off to Sports Day at Spytty with banners and cheerleaders. The House system is a key feature of the way the school is organised giving students 9and staff!) a sense of belonging. Years 9-11 have mixed age tutor groups all belonging to one house.

I could go on – I was so inspired by what I saw and heard and can’t wait to return to talk to the students and ask them how they feel about their school. I am convinced that this is a blueprint for schools in the future and I urge anyone to look at this model and watch the results.

A big thank you to Deputy Head Mr Nathan Jenkins for the tour and for the headteacher Mr Schlick and next year’s head Mrs Keane for their hospitality.

First day

Today I made by debut in the Siambr of the Senedd.  I was given the opportunity to say a few words at the beginning of the session nad received many warm wordds of congratulations from members of all political parties.   This was much appreciated.

Onto my first question to the First Minister  asking what his government are doing to ensure that people over the age of 50 keep mentally active as well as physically active.

Then a learning exercise.  Listening to debates on the economy followed by one on the government’s food strategy.  Debates and questions seem  very different from inside the chamber  than watching from outside.  There is some sort of  ‘whispering gallery’ effect which means you pick up on things being said around the chamber.  Lesson 1 – speak very quietly in private conversations!

Next up the Proposed Waste Measure which deals with waste targets and single use plastic bags.

Maindee Festival‏

What a fantastic event!  A big thank you to friends and workers at the Community House in Eton Road for hosting a reception and a good view of the parade. You can see some of the parade in this video.

This festival has grown over the years and brings together people of all ages and cultures to really have fun and celebrate diversity in this community.  I certainly had fun and enjoyed speaking to the organiser John Hallam about the festival and his role in it.

Well done to the Environment Agency who are making a really big effort to reach out to communities with their Welly Boot tour talking about flood risk and how everyone in risk areas can help prepare and be aware of the dangers. I spoke to Tito about his work – unfortunately the band was a bit loud to hear him on the video.

Flying Start in Newport

My first ‘official’ meeting as Assembly Member for South Wales East was with officers from Newport City Council regarding the Flying Start scheme.  This is a highly targeted scheme to help parents with pre school children with child care, extra health visitor support and parenting programmes.

In Newport 1601 families are being supported but the Assembly Government has instructed the Council to reduce this to 1122. Why? Is it because they are spending too much?

No, it’s because they apparently are not spending enough on each child.  The government insists that in every community in every part of Wales must spend £2100 on every child.  Newport City Council are confident that they are delivering all aspects of the programme to the children and families but at a more efficient cost of £1500 per child.

At no point has the Assembly government indicated where the shortfalls are in Newport’s scheme. The issues they have highlighted in the past such as  a lack of choice of parenting programmes has been addressed and had already been agreed in advance.

On drilling down it appears that the main reason that Newport can deliver this for less money is the low central and evaluation costs compared to other councils. (Less than 5% compared to over 20% for others) I would like to see a comparison of costs across all strandsof the scheme with all other Flying Start projects across Wales. The important things is the delivery of the front line service for the children and families after all.

Instead of being dogmatic about the theoretical costings, perhaps the Education Minister and his officials could see the Newport scheme as an example of best practice. I will be seeking a meeting with the Deputy Minister as soon as possible to discuss this and to ensure that as many families as possible can benefit from this extra help.

Today is the day

Well today is the day!  By this evening I will be the Welsh Liberal Democrat AM for South Wales East. I am fortunate to be taking the Oath in the Siambr this afternoon.

I first stood for election to the National Assembly in the first elections in 1999 as number 2 on the South Wales East list. Of course it was disappointing not to be there from the beginning but I was lucky enough to work for Kirsty Williams and Mike German and to see the institution start to take shape and develop over the last eleven years.

With the referendum on proper law-making powers for the Assembly in sight, it is an exciting time to be a part of this institution and I feel very privileged to be able to play my part.