Mar 132016
 

Clare Pelham, CEO of Leonard Cheshire, is resigning.

Pelham-20140930105114887

She’s resigning without another job to go to.

She’s a career politician. She was previously first chief executive of the Judicial Appointments Commission, the body charged with introducing more diversity into the Judiciary, and was under fire in the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs for the Commission’s poor record in the first year.  (She restricted appointments to her commission to existing Civil Servants, thus perpetuating the lack of diversity.)

Before then Clare Pelham held senior civil service positions at the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. She has also a senior manager at IBM and was a member of the Executive Committee of Coca-Cola.

She has given no reasons for leaving her £150,000 job at Leonard Cheshire. I don’t need a reason, I can celebrate without one. But I smell a rat. I simply can’t see a career person like this leaving her job without some other well-paid, ego-stroking job to go to, without a serious reason.

I think she is leaving before the shit hits the fan.

OR somebody has finally GIVEN HER THE PUSH!

Leonard Cheshire are in financial trouble.

They have written to staff telling them that any Leonard Cheshire home may close, citing increased costs due to the need to pay their carers the Government’s new “National Living Wage” from 1st April. They are closing Honresfeld home with indecent haste and “an uncaring disregard for the wellbeing of residents” according to the Council and CCG, citing economic factors.

I think Clare Pelham can see the writing on the wall, doesn’t want to be associated with this looming PR disaster (she doesn’t give a stuff about the residents and staff, of course) and is escaping quick before she gets mired with the resultant bad publicity. (After all, her career and public profile were always her prime motivation anyway.) She perhaps has in mind the indecent spectacle of her predecessor, Eric Prescott. LCD brought him in as a “hatchet man” to cut costs, but left halfway through after staff morale hit rock bottom – tales of groups of staff forced to cluster round speakerphones to listen to recorded messages about the future of their employment were not confidence-inspiring.

Either that, or Leonard Cheshire have realised that her indifference to the charity’s own services has sabotaged them, and is thus giving her the push.

Leonard Cheshire didn’t prepare for the National Living Wage.

Leonard Cheshire didn’t even begin the process of asking Councils for extra money due to the increase in costs caused by the mandatory National Living Wage (due 1st April 2016), until December 2015. We already know that they hadn’t bothered asking for more money to enable them to pay their carers the  (entirely different) Living Wage Foundation’s Living Wage, until I forced them to do so (in a desultory and non-comprehensive fashion.) Councils have either refused due to their shrinking budgets, or told Leonard Cheshire it will have to wait for a decision pending multiple fee review meetings.

Worries for staff and residents

So LCD have done too little and left it too late. Now staff round the country are demoralised and worried for their jobs, and care home residents around the country (+ their relatives etc.) (with whom Leonard Cheshire have not deigned to communicate on this matter) are left not knowing if their home will be shut in two months with all of them evicted.

This situation is looking increasingly like a repeat Southern Cross. Yeah, thanks for that, Leonard Cheshire Disability.

I quote the founder again:

As time passed, professionalism advanced, and trustee numbers rose. In 1985 the trustees debated proposals which in Cheshire’s eyes “seemed to be based on the assumption that the foundation was moving towards being run by full-time professional staff, with the trustees responsible only for broad policy“. He opposed this, predicting that it would lead to “a radical change in the foundation’s way of thinking.” There would be less local involvement, diminished local fund-raising and a decline in voluntary help. Against this, core costs would rise, and the foundation “would become more and more like the NHS or social services“. (my emphasis)

Do Cheshire Homes have a future?

Mar 032016
 

Leonard Cheshire has decided to close Honresfeld Cheshire Home, Littleborough. It notified the residents and staff on 27th January of the impending closure at the end of March. 22 disabled people with high support needs live there. Arranging new accommodation and moving is difficult and traumatic enough for people without severe impairments. Imagine trying to sort out suitable care, equipment and accommodation at such short notice

Leonard Cheshire claim that they are consulting over this closure; but it is clear that they have decided they will close it, and rapidly. Their two months notice is in breach of the standard contract with Leonard Cheshire residents, which states:

7.6 In addition to any other rights it has to do so, Leonard Cheshire Disability may terminate this Agreement by giving at least three months written notice to the Service User at any time if Leonard Cheshire Disability proposes to close, temporarily or permanently, or to modify or redevelop the Home and believes that it is not possible in such circumstances to continue this Agreement beyond the end of that notice period.

So Leonard Cheshire Disability have to give residents three months notice. They gave them two months. Why?

As I say, they claim they were consulting on their closure. This doesn’t seem to be a consultation on if they will close, but how. They then decided to give residents an extra couple of months to get out – how generous! Given their own contracts say they have to give three months notice, I have concluded that they always intended on shutting in four months, but went for two just so they can show they are being “responsive” to the “consultation”.

cartoon by Crippen

And when we want your opinion, we’ll tell you what it is! Cartoon c/o the excellent Crippen. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 UK

So why do they have to close anyway, and so quickly?

Leonard Cheshire says that it’s because:

the service is no longer financially viable in the current market. Our charity has been financially supporting the service for a number of years and sadly this is no longer possible.

In addition, the Victorian building requires substantial investment to bring it up to modern-day standards. (my emphasis.)

If Leonard Cheshire have been funding the home for “a number of years”, why the urgent rush to shut it? Is the home that unviable and that skint? The Council and the NHS deny this:

The council and the CCG thoroughly and absolutely refute that the levels of fees paid to Leonard Cheshire, the owners of the home, by Rochdale Borough Council and others can be attributed to their decision to close the home.

We are strongly of the view that with efficient use of resources, the care home could remain open.

We would welcome the opportunity to examine the accounts of Leonard Cheshire and will gladly work with them to provide assistance to review their staffing and care costs in order to find efficiencies to support the home to be viable.

The state of the building and the costs of the works needed to bring it up to standard is a separate issue. We understand that Leonard Cheshire has to make decisions about use of its resources, although we note that according to the last accounts published by the Charity Commission, the organisation has significant levels of reserves.

As a council and CCG we must respect Leonard Cheshire’s commercial decision to close this home as the building needs significant capital investment. We are also aware that any subsequent sale of the land is likely to provide significant additional sale value for the organisation.

We are, however, very disappointed at the way in which Leonard Cheshire has communicated and managed this situation to date. A letter was sent to residents and families on 25 January with the intention to close the home by 31 March.

In our view this shows an uncaring disregard for the wellbeing of residents, some of whom have lived in the home for over 20 years. With better planning and more notice Leonard Cheshire could have worked with Rochdale Borough Council and the CCG to plan the closure and the enforced move for residents more sensitively. (my emphasis.)

So the Council and the NHS think the rapid closure is unnecessary. Leonard Cheshire undoubtedly won’t let them examine their books, Leonard Cheshire is about as transparent and accountable as Colditz. We therfore have to examine other figures.

  • Rochdale council pays Leonard Cheshire on average 44% more per placement than for analogous placements with other providers.
  • They’re not alone: 55 of 71 other councils that place residents in LCD care homes similarly pay more to Leonard Cheshire than to others. (reference)

Perhaps they pay their carers more?

Nope. As previously noted, despite their Chief Executive advocating that carers should be paid the Living Wage as set by the Independent Living Foundation, Leonard Cheshire routinely pays just above the minimum wage. The minimum wage for people aged over 21 outside London is £6.70 per hour. The Living Wage as set by the Independent Living foundation is £8.25 per hour. Leonard Cheshire is currently advertising for carers:

Support Worker (Residential Services) Penzance: £6.77 per hour.

£6.77 per hour.

Leonard Cheshire repeatedly claim that they have “written to all local authorities who commission our services about our desire to pay the living wage” but in fact they still haven’t; for example Manchester City Council contract Leonard Cheshire but have never received any correspondence from them whatsoever asking for increases in fees to enable them to pay the living wage.

So it doesn’t go on carer’s wages. Where does it go?

Good question!

As of April 2015, there were 14 LCD employees who earn more than MPs. (An increase from 11 employees the previous year.) (from their Annual Accounts.) Between them, these LCD employees earn at least £1,300,000 per year (+ private medical care, pensions and other bonuses.) That £1,300,000 is considerably more than Honresfeld residents’ fees. (Assuming that residents’ fees are about £39,000 per year, based upon figures supplied by Rochdale Council, the fee income for Honresfeld is around £850,000 pa.)

Just think: if LCD cut the salaries of their top 14 employees to that of a carer (i.e. the people who actually do the work that makes a difference to disabled people), they could save well over £1,000,000 per year. This saving could more than double the contribution from Honresfeld residents’ fees.

Leonard Cheshire evictions

Leonard Cheshire has a long history of attempting to evicttroublesome” and “non-profitable” people. In the 1950s, it attempted to evict a number of residents  who protested at having to be in their pyjamas by 6pm every day. In 2002, Leonard Cheshire argued for – and got – the legal precedent that they don’t have to respect residents’ human rights, so that they could evict residents from Le Court (the original Cheshire home.) In 2010, “a range of senior (LCD) management” were found to have committed institutional and psychological abuse of me over a number of years, in the process of which they illegitimately attempted to evict me without any justification. Now they are evicting Honresfeld residents with unneeded and cruel haste because they aren’t “profitable“.

I know what Leonard Cheshire the man would have thought. He’s on record. To quote Richard Morris’s biography of him:

As time passed, professionalism advanced, and trustee numbers rose. In 1985 the trustees debated proposals which in Cheshire’s eyes “seemed to be based on the assumption that the foundation was moving towards being run by full-time professional staff, with the trustees responsible only for broad policy“. He opposed this, predicting that it would lead to “a radical change in the foundation’s way of thinking.” There would be less local involvement, diminished local fund-raising and a decline in voluntary help. Against this, core costs would rise, and the foundation “would become more and more like the NHS or social services“. (my emphasis)

In response to the Leonard Cheshire Foundation’s attempt to evict those who objected to the pyjama curfew:

he responded by advising the Management Committee that a Cheshire Home was a home for life.

Honresfeld resident Harry Roach said:

It can’t be right that we can be thrown out after two months. I’ve been here 10 years and I’m happy here.

I thought that they would at least give us a year.

When they said two months I thought ‘You are having a laugh’.

Two months to sort your life out? It would be hard for somebody not disabled, let alone someone in a wheelchair.

Quite.

There is a petition to stop the closure of Honresfeld Cheshire Home.

Slimming World Syn values of Diet Chef foods

 Miscellany  Comments Off on Slimming World Syn values of Diet Chef foods
Feb 262016
 

I am a fat whatsit and really need to lose weight. I lost a lot on Slimming World a few years ago, then did Diet Chef for a while, now I’m back on Slimming World again (there’s more choice and it’s more sustainable long-term.) So I have Diet Chef stock in the cupboard but I’m on Slimming World. Slimming World syns online and so on don’t list Diet Chef foods, so I’ve shoved the various Diet Chef foods in my cupboard through the Slimming World online syns calculator, with appropriate selection of any free food content. I thought this might prove vaguely useful to somebody else, hence this departure from my normal content on my blog.
I don’t guarantee it to be error free, the recipe may change, it’s not all the Diet Chef foods (just the ones I could stomach), don’t leave your grandma out in a gale and always make sure to shut the firebox and turn the blower on when entering a tunnel, or at the very least open the regulator all the way.

Main Meals

Meal Syns
Mild Chicken Tikka Massala
Lasagne
Sweet and Sour Chicken 6
Chicken in Black Bean Sauce
Chicken Jalfrezi
Thai Red Chicken Curry
Vegetable Curry
Macaroni Cheese 5
Sausages and Onion Gravy

Lunches

Meal Syns
Cream of Tomato Soup
Mushroom Soup
Pea and Ham Soup Free
Curried Parsnip Soup 4
Sweet Potato & Coconut Soup
Oxtail Soup 3
Creamy Pesto Pasta Pot ½
Spiced Bulgar Wheat & Couscous Pot Free
Lemon & Herb Bulgar Wheat & Couscous Pot ½
Tomato & Herb Bulgar Wheat & Couscous Pot ½
Tomato, Red Pepper & Cheese Pasta Pot Free
Vanilla Flavour Protein Bar 11½
Chocolate Flavour Protein Bar 11½
Peanut Flavour Protein Bar 11½

Breakfasts

I guess it’s up to you if you count any of these as “own brand” Healthy Bs, though they are slightly bigger at 40g.

Meal Syns
Fruit and Oat Muesli
Luxuri Muesli
Chocolate Granola 10
Treacle & Pecan Granola 10
Fruit & Oat Soft Cookie 10
Chocolate Soft Cookie 10
Original Muesli Bar 10
Chocolate Chip Muesli Bar

Snacks

Snack Syns
Fruit & Spice Oat Buiscuits 4
Stem Ginger Oat Buiscuits
Dark Chocolate Chip Oat Buiscuits
Mixed Berry Oat Buiscuits
Cranberry Protein Bar 30g 6
Strawbery & Apple Bar 2
Chocolate Bar 5
Feb 182016
 

I’ve noted in blogs passim that the Department for Work and Pensions promised the Work and Pensions Commons Select Committee in 2009 that it would collate statistics on disability discrimination cases in the provision of goods and services.

42. There is a lack of data on the number of DDA cases on goods, facilities and services in the county courts, although a number of witnesses presume the numbers to be very small. We recommend that the Government monitors the trends in the number of cases taken and their outcomes. (Paragraph 264)

89. The Government will consider introducing changes to the county court IT system when there is an opportunity to do so. Until then, courts will be asked to manually gather information on DDA cases involving goods, facilities and services.

I asked for that information, in a Freedom of Information Request.

1) what changes to the IT system were considered, which were implemented and which were not, and why

2) what systems were implemented to ensure the manual collation in courts of data on DDA cases involving goods, facilities and services, when those systems were implemented, when they stopped and how successful they were;

Please provide all data collated on disability discrimination cases as a result of the above.

I’ve had the belated response from the Ministry of Justice today.

I would first like to take this opportunity to apologise to you for the long delay in our response which was caused by the need for the Department to conduct extensive searches to determine if any information was held. Also there was difficulty in trying to locate the best business unit to accurately respond. I therefore confirm the HMCTS (Her Maj’s Courts and Tribunals Service) was not compliant in its handling of the FOI request and breached section 10 (1) of the FOI Act, by responding outside the twenty day statutory deadline.

Having conducted extensive searches of all relevant areas within HMCTS and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) I can confirm that the Department does not hold the information that you have requested. To establish whether the information was held we have conducted a thorough search and made enquiries with the following business areas: HMCTS Equality Team, MoJ Corporate Equality Team, HMCTS Finance Directorate Performance, Analysis and Reporting, MoJ Strategic Reform, Forecasting and Finance and HMCTS Civil & Business Support Team.

When assessing whether or not information was held adequate and reasonable searches for the requested information were made of:

  • Electronic records were searched using the following key search terms: Disability Discrimination Act case in County Courts, DDA cases involving goods, facilities and services, DDA cases on County Court IT system, Changes to County Court IT system, DDA cases and DWP Select Committee, MoJ’s response to DWP Select Committee Report on DDA cases etc which would have revealed any information held.
  • Checks were made with policy officials responsible for the issue in MoJ.

If the information was held by HMCTS and or MoJ it would have to be held by the above mentioned business areas. It may help if I clarify that the information being requested is not held by HMCTS and MoJ because there is no specific legal requirement for MoJ to do so.

I think all that extensive, extensive searching indicates a degree of justifiable embarrassment experienced by MoJ officials at determining that it’s now 100% clear that despite promising a select committee that they would collate statistics on such cases, in actuality they did sweet FA and just forgot about their promise.

This is somewhat of a shame as it would have been useful to the select committee in its post-legislative review of the Equality Act. I was asked about statistics of such cases:

Q101 Lord McColl of Dulwich: … My question is: what proportion of cases are taken by litigants, both disabled and non-disabled people, without legal advice?

Doug Paulley: I have been trying to research this. Back in 2009, the Government responded to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, stating that they would manually collate statistics on various aspects of disability discrimination cases under what was then the DDA. They would then institute a computer system that would automatically record this. When I tried to research the proportions using the Freedom of Information Act, nobody seemed to know, to be frank. I have asked quite a lot of different organisations, and from what I can gather the requirement to notify the Equality and Human Rights Commission of cases is not universally complied with, to say the least. The Ministry of Justice has not recorded statistics on this. So I am afraid that all we can give you is anecdotal experience.

Is it contempt of Parliament to make a specific promise to a Select Committee to collate such statistics, then to not bother at all, do you think?

Feb 172016
 
Amsterdam Centraal

Amsterdam Centraal

I travelled from York to Amsterdam recently by train. It’s surprisingly quick and easy, and there aren’t any silly baggage restrictions, nor did I have to get out of my wheelchair at any point. But it’s not all straightforward, so I thought I’d give some tips.

Booking

This was the non-straightfoward bit. But it’s not impossible. Don’t let it put you off.
On the Eurostar website, non-wheelchair users can book straight through from York to Amsterdam, changing at London and Brussels. Similarly on Loco2. But wheelchair users can’t book it all in one, either on the Internet or by phone. Wheelchair users have to book the three stages separatelyYork to London, London to Brussels and Brussels to Amsterdam.

It’s a right P. I. T. A. I think it’s discriminatory and unacceptable. Eurostar can book seats on the York to London leg, and the Brussels to Amsterdam, but not the wheelchair space. In their special assistance guide (PDF) they say this is because:

There are various differences between the booking systems used by us and other train operators, which means we’re not able to reserve dedicated wheelchair or companion fares with other train companies for you.

Yet strangely they are able to book seats and tickets for non-disabled people… Here’s what they said on the phone.

Me: OK, so to be clear: you can book non-wheelchair users direct from London to Amsterdam, but wheelchair users have to book half of it with SNCF? (the French railway provider)186mph
Eurostar operator: Yes, because we don’t have a licence to book the onward journey to Brussels and Amsterdam. We just don’t have the licence to sell that ticket.
Me: But you can sell it for non-wheelchair users? I’ve just tried online and it was quite happy to let me book all the way through in one go from London to Amsterdam.
Eurostar operator: Yes.

The whole transcript is available here. One has to wonder just how hard they have tried to get the license and ability to sell through tickets for wheelchair users. I suspect that if they withdrew all purchases for through tickets in protest at connecting companies’ failure to let them book the wheelchair space, a solution would be found pretty damn quickly.

As it is, it’s more expensive having to book separate tickets, there’s more complication booking separate tickets and assistance by phone with each, and you run the risk of not being allowed on later connecting trains if you miss a connection due to a train being delayed.
Aside: Don’t try to book accessible hotels, accessible car hire or travel insurance for people with pre-existing conditions via the Eurostar website either. They do offer all of those, but don’t give you the option to specify access on their website, and they don’t deal with them at all by phone.

OK, so we’re reduced to buying separate tickets for all three legs.

UK leg

amsterdam uk leg

Starting as I mean to go on, on the HST to London

It is relatively simple to book trains and assistance within the UK. (compared to other countries!) (famous last words!) Any train company can book any UK rail ticket and can also book assistance i.e. the wheelchair space on trains, ramps at stations etc. I look up train times on National Rail Enquiries website, which also has access details for UK stations. If you are traveling from the North East, you will end up in London Kings Cross, which is right next door to St Pancras International; otherwise you’ll have to work out how to get from your London terminus to St Pancras. The Transport for London Journeyplanner can help here; if you select “Travel options and Accessibility” you can select whether you need “step free access” etc. Plan to get to St Pancras at least an hour before your planned Eurostar departure.

You can then book the tickets with whatever website you like (don’t use TheTrainline.com, the same tickets are available everywhere else without TheTrainline.com’s £1.50 booking fee!), but you have to phone to book assistance so in my view it’s best just to make one phone call (via NGT-Relay if necessary) and kill two birds with one stone. I booked with Grand Central; their tickets and assistance line is 0344 811 0072 (UK national rate).

Try and book your tickets to “London International CIV“. This ticket covers Underground travel across London, but the main advantage is if your train is late and you miss your Eurostar train, Eurostar must put you on a later train at no extra cost, as explained by the man in Seat 61. You can book the wheelchair space, a companion space and ramps at all stations – the phone conversation may well take 20 minutes. You can arrange to pick your tickets up at the station (NB: take a careful note of the reference number to do so in case it doesn’t come through by email; also take the debit or credit card by which you paid as the machine will insist on it!) or for them to be posted to you for free.

Plan to be at your starting station at least 30 minutes before the train departs.

Eurostar leg

eirostar rampCheck the train times on the Eurostar website. You want London to Brussels Midi / Zuid / South (they’re all the same station!)

The only wheelchair spaces are in “Standard Premier“, which is first class in all but name (it’s a dodge so that business people can travel 1st Class and claim it on expenses.) So you get the wheelchair space and one companion space in Standard Premier, at Standard class price. If you have more than one person with you, you either have to pay extra for them to travel in Standard Premier with you, or you have to travel in a different coach than them.

You can book the wheelchair space and companion seat online, but there’s little point as you still have to phone up to book ramps anyway, so you might as well do it all at once. Phone number: 03432 186 186. You can arrange for your tickets to be emailed to you, to print at home.

Continental leg

thalysThe high-speed train between Brussels (Midi / Zuid / South) and Amsterdam is run by “Thalys” (pronounced Tah-liss.) What I did is I looked up on the Eurostar website the train that non-disabled people would be put on, then booked the same one from Brussels to Amsterdam. You can’t book the wheelchair space online. You have to do so by phone direct to Thalys, which is an international number and incurs a €7 booking charge. (Disgraceful, in my opinion.)  You do, however, get “Comfort 1” (i.e. First Class) for yourself and one companion at a very discounted rate. For any more people, you either have to pay for 1st Class or they have to travel separately to you.

Unlike in the UK, the phone line isn’t open all weekend – weekdays 8am-9pm, Saturdays 10am-6pm and not at all on Sundays. Don’t make my mistake – don’t buy a “standard” ticket on a Sunday and phone the next day to ask for it to be transferred to the wheelchair space, you’ll be met by a flat refusal. (Read the transcript of that car-crash of a telephone call here…) The telephone number from the UK is 00 31 30 23 000 23. (Ask for an English speaker – this is to Holland where nearly everybody speaks English, including the sales people.)

To cut down on the international call cost, I used VoipDiscount – this is a discount call operator which you can use in various ways, including over a standard UK landline or mobile. Sign up, add some money to your account via Paypal, register your Caller ID, then you can ring international numbers, including in the Netherlands, for “free” or for €0.01 per minute by dialing a UK geographical landline access number (0161 700 2525) then when prompted dialing the international number followed by the # key. NB: this also means you can make a text relay call; just dial the 18001 prefix, i.e. 18001 0161 700 2525 (wait for relay assistant) 00 31 30 23 000 23# (tell relay assistant to ask for an English speaker.) You will then be emailed your ticket for Thalys.

Unlike in the UK or on Eurostar, you have to phone to book assistance (ramps etc.) separately; the people who sell tickets for the wheelchair space don’t book assistance. (Crazy, if you ask me.) The assistance booking number is 00 31 30 235 78 22. So if you’re using text relay and VoipDiscount to save on costs, it’s 18001 0161 700 2525 (wait for relay assistant) 00 31 30 235 78 22# (tell relay assistant to ask for an English speaker.)

You’ll then get the tickets by email, you can print them at home.

All booked?

Congratulations; in four phone calls (two international), lots of Internet surfing and plenty of time, you’ve managed to do what non-wheelchair users can do on the Eurostar website in a few minutes for free!

Don’t forget to arrange a passport, an EHIC, and travel insurance (mainly for repatriation if things go wrong.) I recommend Allclear for travel insurance for people with existing health problems. Also charge your mobile for any problems, and sign up for O2 Travel or equivalent.


The journey

Don’t forget:

  1. Blue Badge if you’re parking at the station.
  2. UK rail tickets, or the collection reference and the debit / credit card you used.
  3. Eurostar tickets, printed out
  4. Passport.
  5. EHIC.
  6. Travel insurance documents.
  7. Bags – up to two big bags (e.g. suitcases) and one small bag – all with luggage labels with your name on
  8. Thalys tickets, printed out.
  9. Euros, and/or credit card – check out Money Saving Expert for tips.
  10. Phone charger suitable for the Continent – or normal one + converter

UK legyork

Aim to get to the train station at least 30 minutes before the train’s due. They need that time to pfaf about and be incompetent with ramps, as I always put it. (Actually, the assistance staff are usually very good – friendly, helpful and on the ball, to give them their due – at least at Leeds and York.) Pick up your tickets at a machine, if need be, then make yourself known at the info point as having booked assistance. The staff will then tell you where to go (as it were), and bring the ramp if necessary, at the starting station, any intermediary stations and at London.  Depending on the train, there may or may not be a catering facility, at seat or otherwise, or a phone charger socket in the wheelchair space.

Eurostar leg

betjemanIf you’ve arrived in plenty of time, St Pancras Station is a nice place to hang around; but only on the bit before you register at Eurostar. The departure lounge for Eurostar is cramped, hot, enclosed and unexciting; unlike the glorious, airy, light and beautiful rest of St Pancras Station. There’s a champagne bar on the first floor; spectacular architecture; interesting sculptures; food and drink and so on. It’s a Nice Place to Be. (tm)

champagneAbout an hour before your Eurostar departure, make yourself known at the Eurostar assistance point. Follow signs to the Eurostar departures (downstairs), go past all standard booking-in places and the “business première” and the assistance meeting point is at the end. Here you’ll have to show your ticket.

You’ll then go through to Baggage, where everything you are carrying goes on a tray through the X-ray machine. (The people running this were very unpleasant and officious, but you don’t have to deal with them for long…) You yourself will be patted down and have a metal detector wand waved over you.

Eurostar ramps!

Eurostar ramps!

eurostar trainYou then have to show your passport at UK passport control, then at French passport control, and that’s that. Surprisingly easy, a lot less difficult than Airport security (no messing about with liquids, for example) and quite quick. You are then left to wait in a special sheep pen for disabled people, in the stifling heat and with stuff all to do – bring a book!

Just before the platform is announced, assistance staff will take you up the lift onto the platform and onto the train.

Eurostar trains are being refurbished, and to be honest, they need it. The old ones (i.e. most of them) are dim and relatively cramped. The wheelchair space is in the middle – you can’t sit next to the window. But for once, you do get to sit next to your travel companion.

eurostarspace

In the wheelchair space with my carer

There’s a continental electricity socket for a phone charger. There are fold-down tables, but it’s too low – the stewards have a special higher one for wheelchair users; ask for it if they don’t offer it. There will be a free snack cold meal, and free drinks – soft drinks or wine / beer, or you can buy champagne as we did. (We were celebrating carer Mike’s graduation.) On-board staff all speak English very well and are very friendly and helpful. All announcements are in English, French and Flemish. There’s a reasonably spacious disabled toilet.

The ride is exceptionally smooth, you don’t feel like you are travelling 186mph. Soon you are through Kent and in the Channel Tunnel, with no fanfare – you’re in the tunnel 20 minutes. Before you know it, you’ll be at the first stop in Lille, then in Brussels, where staff will bring the ramp for you to alight.

Continental leg

Brussells station

Brussels station

Brussels station is much less picturesque than St Pancras. Much of it is underground. Ask for “Thalys” (tah-liss); in French if you can muster it, otherwise in English, and you’ll be directed to their information point, where you should say you’ve booked assistance. You’ll then be met and taken to the correct platform (still underground) for the Thalys train to Amsterdam.

NB: the “accessible” toilet on the Thalys train is anything but – use the one on Eurostar (or presumably there’s an accessible loo in Brussels station.)

thalysloo1 thalys loo thalysloo2
I defy anybody in a wheelchair to fit in the Thalys train loo, let alone shut the door…

thalysrampthalysspaceThe ramp onto the Thalys is also an impressive affair. The wheelchair space is next to the window and is spacious. It includes a EU socket for phone chargers. I got trapped in the vestibule by a faulty internal door! For anybody in a similar predicament, there’s a green push button in the ceiling on each side of the internal door, which most wheelchair users can’t reach, that overrides the door opening mechanism.

 

Amsterdam Centraal

Amsterdam Centraal

Soon you’re on the move again, powering through the countryside at 186mph. There’s free drinks, including wine / beer / soft drinks, served at seat; and a free “snack” meal. Which largely involved processed fish, but was OK (for me, my carer hates fish!)

And you’re there! Assistance unloads you into the stunning Amsterdam Centraal station.

NB: On your return, to find the lifts to the platform, don’t follow the signs to the platforms (which take you forwards and left) – turn immediate Right after entering the station, after registering at the info-point. (As found out by my excellent carer Mike.)

Further Reading

The Man in Seat 61 is the definitive go-to website for the know-how on European train travel from the UK. He includes all sorts of details and descriptions, most reassuring for first-time travellers such as I was!

Next up:

My next blog will be about wheelchair accessible accommodation and transport in Amsterdam.

Steer Clear of Teleflorist.co.uk / “Eflorist” / “Euroflorist” – they can’t be trusted.

 Miscellany  Comments Off on Steer Clear of Teleflorist.co.uk / “Eflorist” / “Euroflorist” – they can’t be trusted.
Jan 102016
 
BOU14_97_aR CHO102 DE12BQTSF01R flowers

I have just successfully sued TelefloristEflorist / Euroflorist after they let me down badly and didn’t give a stuff.

We had a family celebration holiday at the frankly wonderful Calvert Trust Kielder. On Sunday, the day before we traveled, I decided to order some flowers and chocolates to be in the room for when my family arrives on the Monday. I had a problem: Calvert Trust Kielder is so remote that most companies don’t do same or next day flower delivery – so I shopped around to find one that did. I settled on Teleflorists, who accepted my order for next day delivery without problems. I ordered a “Coral Bouquet” plus “Milk Chocolate 9s” and paid £40.95 including next day delivery.

All looks rather lovely, I thought; and all sorted so easily!.

Till I got an email the next day, sent at 3:23pm: “We are sorry but despite our best efforts we have not been able to find a florist who can deliver your order.” Well that’s just great, isn’t it. “We would like to offer you a courier delivered item called Pink Lady and also include a vase. This would be sent on the next available delivery date, which is Tuesday. … Kindly reply by 4pm to ensure we can deliver on the next available delivery date.” They gave me 37 minutes notice to respond if I wanted them to arrive the day after they should originally have done. They were lucky to catch me at all: it came through on my mobile just before I lost signal. I couldn’t see the “pink lady” (ooh-er, missus) as I didn’t have enough mobile connection to download a picture, so they emailed me at 4pm to say they’d decided to order it anyway without my say-so. I can see now, however, what they should look like – “A heartwarming bouquet of cerise Gerberas, pink Roses and purple Alstroemeria.

We arrived on the Monday, but the flowers didn’t. They didn’t arrive on the Tuesday, either. Eventually, after much chasing, they turned up on the Wednesday. (The delivery label indicated that they hadn’t even been posted until the Tuesday.)

Let’s check the flowers I ordered, then the flowers I blindly accepted to be delivered a day later, then the actual flowers that arrived a day after that (on day three of the four-day holiday.)

BOU14_97_aR CHO102 DE12BQTSF01R flowers
“D day” (no-show)… A day late (no-show)… Two days late.
And no chocolates!

Yeah, thanks Teleflorist, that was so worth waiting the extra two days for. That truly looks like “a heartwarming bouquet of cerise Gerberas, pink Roses and purple Alstroemeria.

I complained (unusual for me!)

My remaining issues are that you took an order for delivery on a date what you knew you couldn’t make, that you didn’t tell me that until mid afternoon on the supposed day of delivery, that you only contacted me by email and gave me a very limited period to respond, that you promised that delivery would occur on the next day, that in fact you didn’t arrange for delivery until the day after that, that you failed to keep me updated about the delays, and that the flowers were not of a satisfactory standard when they did arrive. Instead of this being a nice surprise and an asset to (our family) celebrations, it has become a drag and a disappointment.

Their response?

Having reviewed the photograph you have been kind enough to provide, we’re pleased to see that these flowers are within our expectations, please ensure the water is changed and the vase is clean. This will serve to maximise the life of the flowers and mean more enjoyment.

Yeah, how unfair of me, I shouldn’t be so demanding of the quality of my flowers, what they sent me is clearly nearly as good as the photo. Silly me.

They lied in response to my TrustPilot review, (“a member of our customer service team has been in contact and this has now been resolved”) then they failed to respond to any further correspondence or any other elements of my complaint.

So I sued them. They didn’t even respond to legal action on time, so I was awaiting default judgment; but today, I received their admission – they “admit the full amount claimed” – and a full refund by cheque.

They claim to have signed their form on the last day they could legally have responded to my case (29th December) (yeah right, 11 days have gone by, even at peak times Royal Mail aren’t that slow) so I’m now applying for a judgment with interest, to make sure they end up on the register of adverse County Court judgments for the next six years.

What have I learned from this? Basically:

Do NOT use Eflorist / Teleflorist / Euroflorist.

They are incompetent, they don’t give a stuff and they lie.

On the nature of party balloons and catheters

 Miscellany  Comments Off on On the nature of party balloons and catheters
Dec 112015
 

When you deflate a balloon it never goes back to its original shape.

party-balloons-background_zps727ce43f copy

This isn’t usually a problem. But it is in this context.

cathetersThose are silicone Foley catheters, if you are wondering. I’ve got a hole through my abdomen into my bladder, into which the above gets pushed (with medical lubrication) and is held in place by inflating the balloon. This is the mechanism by which I pass water – a suprapubic catheter. The other end gets attached to a leg bag, which is a urine collection device; an external, plastic bladder if you will.

441(This gives the general idea. I recommend against Googling for photos, as many are a bit graphic. Oh. My. God.)

The catheter goes through a sinus, that is a skin tube through my layers of blubber and into my bladder. It’s a few centimetres long and it forms itself size-wise to the catheter. It has healed completely, a bit like a body piercing, as it were.

This is all fine and dandy except that every so often the catheter needs changing; over ten weeks or so the balloon goes down a bit, the catheter gets a bit mucky and coated and the silicon in the catheter starts to go funny. So the balloon is deflated, in theory reducing the tube to its original shape so it can be pulled out the same way it went in.

In. Theory.

Those blooming wrinkles. They are a right blooming pain. No matter how slowly you go, how careful you are, getting those wrinkles through the hole in the bladder wall, and through that skin tunnel, always knacks. The tunnel just isn’t made for that..

I usually try to do it with ibuprofen and cocodamol, and with the aid of some local anaesthetic in the lubricant. It’s still horrific though. Last night I tried getting drunk. That helped a lot! – a great painkiller, it made sure the new tube was well flushed, and I can barely remember it.

But there has to be a better solution, doesn’t there? Surely it isn’t beyond the ability of material science to create a catheter in which the balloon completely deflates back to where it was? I know there are lots of other things to consider as well – resistant to infections etc. – but even so.

Oh, whilst you’re at it, catheter manufacturers, how’s about supplying leg urine bags WITHOUT leaving the tap open, and WITH the end pushed on properly? (I think they must want to give unsuspecting people smelly wet sock syndrome.)

Yeah, thank you for that Conveen, I'm sure it's very funny to give inattentive people urine-ensoaked socks and trousers...

Yeah, thank you for that Coloplast, I’m sure it’s very funny to give inattentive people urine-soaked socks and trousers…

Proof of email server receipt = proof of receipt of FOI request

 ICO, Information governance  Comments Off on Proof of email server receipt = proof of receipt of FOI request
Nov 282015
 

The ICO has decided in decision notice FS50559082 (yet to appear on the ICO’s website, so for now check the annotation on WhatDoTheyKnow) that server logs indicating receipt by a public authority’s email server constitute persuasive proof that the authority received the request.

12. The Commissioner notes that there is evidence to show that around the period the request was made the Cabinet Office was having difficulty receiving emails from the Whatdotheyknow site. However, the Commissioner was given confirmation from the Whatdotheyknow website that the request in this instance was received by the Cabinet Office’s email servers.

13. The Commissioner considers that there is sufficient evidence to show that the Cabinet Office had received the request on the date it was sent by the complainant.

In this case, the Cabinet Office’s email MX server in receipt of the email i by Symmantec’s “Message Labs” cloud-based email security platform. It is possible that the request was lost in Symmantec’s system and not the Cabinet Office (perhaps falsely classed as spam.)

WhatDoTheyKnow always keep email server logs (barring any exceptional technical problems) and so administrators are always able to prove the authority’s receipt of the request. (We have suggested that this information should be directly available to our users.) Similarly, my website hosts (Penguin UK) keep email server logs for a limited period and customers can get a copy of the log entry in question. I should imagine that other hosts using CPanel should offer the same facility.

When making FOI requests by email (or perhaps even when making subject access requests), requesters may wish to get and keep a copy of the mail server log proving the body’s receipt of the request – particularly where the body doesn’t issue automatic acknowledgements of such emails and/or has a …. patchy record of compliance with the Act, like the Cabinet Office.

H/t JT Oakley / @jatroa for pursuing this issue.

 

Nov 212015
 
cartoon by Crippen

And when we want your opinion, we’ll tell you what it is!

Clare Pelham, Leonard Cheshire’s Chief Executive Officer, was interviewed by Peter White today on Radio 4 “You and Yours” about disabled peoples’ difficulties in accessing buses. This is because their survey of 179 wheelchair users found “over nine out of ten (92%) wheelchair users had been refused a space on a bus” and “three in five (61%) people identified buggies in the wheelchair space as the biggest problem they faced. This was way ahead of other problems faced by those using wheelchairs“.

Peter White asked her specifically if she thought that the Paulley vs Firstbus case would find in my favour at Supreme Court.

Peter White: “So this case, that is still going to the Supreme Court, are you expecting that to be restored? Mr Paulley‘s right to get on the bus?”

Clare Pelham: “I don’t think I would even presume to guess what Supreme Court judges would find. But actually, I think this shouldn’t be a case for the law. This should be a case for the people, the people to do what’s right, whether they are bus drivers or passengers, we all want to have public transport that enables all of the public to travel.”

That obviously works well, doesn’t it. People with pushchairs, other passengers, drivers, they all know and understand that if the wheelchair space isn’t made available, a wheelchair user can’t travel. Yet by her own figures, 61% of wheelchair users identify buggies in the wheelchair space as the biggest problem they face. Just how does she think the few people with pushchairs, other passengers and drivers who currently prevent wheelchair users traveling are suddenly going to realise the error of their ways? How, precisely, is she going to instill this magnanimity into the British populace? Through simpering on Radio 4?

Leonard Cheshire try to claim to be the voice of disabled people, a campaigning force to be reckoned with. That’s why they spend £735,000 per year on “campaigning”, and why they have posh offices in Vauxhaul – ostensibly so they can toddle round the corner to lobby Parliament. (They grew too big for their previous offices in Millbank.) Yet they don’t have any legitimacy. They don’t have a constituency, and politically active disabled people despise them. They also don’t walk the walk for the talk they talk, as demonstrated by Northumbria University’s research – an apposite quote below.

“One of the problems it (user involvement) causes is when residents become more empowered and aware of the opportunities of life they’re likely to ask for more. In asking for more, it usually involves staff, and resources are already very scarce and limited, and centred mainly in providing basic daily care in washing, dressing, eating and they occupy an awful lot of time. Empowerment creates problems of staff support. And if the choice of empowerment involves travel then that’s a further added burden. Not necessarily to pay the cost of travelling but to have the opportunity with limited transport or escort.” – A resident in a Leonard Cheshire care home.

Yet even Leonard Cheshire recognise that the Firstbus case is an important fight. Andy Cole (Minister for Administrative Aff – sorry, Director of Corporate Affairs) told BBC News that Leonard Cheshire was disappointed with the Appeal Court judgement as it did not provide “clarity and certainty for disabled bus passengers that the space they need will definitely be made available“, and further that if the case moved to the Supreme Court he hoped any judgement would provide that certainty. (He even gave me a back-handed compliment; “The case shows the immense impact that individual campaigners can have“).

One wonders what planet Clare Pelham is on. Out of touch with service users, disabled people, her own care-workers and even her own campaign team (or at least her Ashley Maddison rep – sorry, “Director of Corporate Affairs”.)

Non-disabled and on £150,000 per year plus private medical treatment and other benefits – surely Clare Pelham should shut up or carry on her disempowering self-serving greasy-pole-climbing elsewhere?

With thanks as ever to the wonderful Dave Lupton / Crippen for his excellent cartoon.

Nov 172015
 

There’s a coach service that stops in Wetherby, my home town, once a day in each direction, to Newcastle upon Tyne via Durham and southbound to Nottingham via Leeds and Sheffield. I thought I’d try it out, because National Express now claim that “virtually all of our fleet now has a passenger lift at the front entrance to make travelling with us as accessible as possible.” But I note that “We must therefore assess all wheelchairs to see if they are compatible for carriage on the coach itself. You can do this by calling our dedicated Assisted Travel Team before you travel.” I therefore rang them to ask if my wheelchair and the Wetherby stop is OK. They said they would get back to me and didn’t. What followed was Kafkaesque.

Me, 28th April: Please can you tell me if I can travel in my wheelchair, it’s a manual wheelchair, a RGK Maxima. Please can you tell me if Wetherby coach stop is accessible for your coaches?

NX, 29th April: I can confirm that your wheelchair has been safety checked with our services so that is fine. Wetherby is a stop that we would need to assess to see if it is accessible.

Me, 29th April: Please can you assess Wetherby stop

NX, 30th April: Your request has been sent off to the relevant department to assess.Please can you check with us once you have decided upon a date of travel so that we can check to see if the assessment has been done. I hope this helps.

WTF?! They asked me for a travel date for the stop I didn’t know whether I could use. How does that work?

Me, 30th April:No, please can you let me know when it’s been done, and how long it will take, rather than asking me to contact you on some nebulous future date?

Me, 8th May: So have you had a look at this stop yet?

NX, 8th May: The stop check has been requested however has yet to be scheduled in.The stop will be scheduled in and checked when our Safety team are within that region. Each member of the Safety team are in charge of one region each and while this is the case, due to the region being quite large, it may take some time for this stop to be checked. I thank you for your patience in the meantime.

Me, 21st May: Please can you tell me if you have assessed the Wetherby bus stop, and if not, when you will be able to do so

Me, 31st July: Have you checked the Wetherby bus stop yet?

NX, 6th August: I am sorry for the delay. I have spoken to the department that checks stops and they have advised that they aim to have the check done by the end of this month. Thank you for your patience in the meantime.

NX, 17th November: I am really sorry for the delay in our response.The Wetherby stop has been checked and I am sorry to inform the verdict has come back as the stop being inaccessible. The space in use is not flat and does not have sufficient amount of space for it to be deployed.I hope this information helps, thank you for your patience whilst this was looked into.

Yeah that helped loads, thank you National Express, and 6½ months is a perfectly reasonable time to tell me that the stop I use for local buses without problem is not accessible to your “accessible” coaches. Just like non-disabled people – oh sorry, wait, they can book a day ahead and rely on being able to travel, or even Turn Up And Go.

For Goodness’ sake.

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