Archives for category: Health

Reading Christian Wolmar’s article: ‘Rail’s dirty secret’, recalled last year’s  question on this site: ‘How many lungs and hearts will be damaged by air pollution before action is taken?’

There is concern about the levels of diesel-generated air-pollution on Grand Central (New Street) platforms experienced by travellers like Professor Rex Harris (Birmingham) whose work includes the promotion of a hydrogen fuelled transport system for rail and waterways.

Professor Thorne’s student monitoring air pollutants at Grand Central

Research conducted by Professor John Thorne (Birmingham) found almost seven times the annual average EU limit of particulate matter on one platform.

The TV programme Dispatches then visited New Street Station with its own monitors and found “high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates on one of the platforms… way above EU annual limits”. Network Rail told the programme it wanted the station to be a “safe and healthy environment” and that in the coming years it “will shift to less polluting electric trains”. Wolmar writes:

In the Rail Engineer, Malcolm Dobell wrote about a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive he saw four years ago; a team from Birmingham University had designed, constructed and entered a fuel cell powered one-fifth scale locomotive in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Railway challenge.

He reported that Alstom’s new train, the Coradia iLint (above), which runs on hydrogen power rather than diesel, has had its first successful test run. It is the first low floor passenger train in the world to be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

The hydrogen used for the test runs is the by-product of an industrial process, which is reasonably reused as a waste product, but because Germany has invested heavily in wind turbine technology as part of its energy mix, it will also be able to use the energy generated by the wind turbines to make hydrogen when electricity demand is low.

As Dobell mentioned, the Birmingham Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research undertook a cross-disciplinary venture with a number of Birmingham Energy Institute academics and Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, to design and construct the UK’s first practical hydrogen-powered locomotive.  The Centre’s website adds that there will be a requirement for such autonomously powered trains to serve non-electrified lines.

Hydrogen-powered locomotives, cars and boats, emitting only steam and condensed water, Dobell comments, are better for the environment, more pleasant for passengers and less disruptive to communities.

Time for change.

 

 

 

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In July, Birmingham City Council reneged on an ACAS-mediated, cabinet-approved agreement between the Unite union and Birmingham’s talented Council Leader, John Clancy, which was to end the seven-week refuse collection dispute.

The well-paid BCC chief executive (right) was seeking to downgrade 106 Grade 3 jobs to a Grade 2, which meant that workers would lose £3,500-5,000 from their already low salaries of around £20,000.

And when BCC reneged on the Unite/Clancy deal, they also issued redundancy notices to the Grade 3 workers. These were later banned in the High Court when Mr Justice Fraser spoke at length about the “extraordinary” and “astonishing” state of affairs at Birmingham City Council with “chaos” between senior personnel. Read more about his reflections here.

Council leader Ian Ward (left) told a BBC reporter: “The cost of the (three month) dispute, yes that’s cost in excess of £6m”.

This ‘new’ version of the original deal (details here), described by union insiders as a ‘total climb-down’, was agreed at a special meeting of the BCC cabinet on Friday.

 ITV reports that yesterday Birmingham bin workers voted to accept the council deal.

So a seven week dispute was allowed to go on for three months, regardless of health and safety implications, losing £6m of ratepayers’ money – and the wrong head rolled.

 

 

 

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The late Hilary Powell, who lived in Shirley, would – like many others volunteering to help food banks – have reacted with great concern to the forecast in the Financial Times by Chris Tighe writing from Newcastle:

“Winter is coming, Britain’s welfare system is in upheaval, universal credit rollout puts extra pressure on Britain’s food banks and rising costs are hurting the poor”. 

Though increasingly disabled over the years by arthritis, with other serious health problems, Hilary did the lighter work on her allotment at Scribers Lane, with her husband John, and for some years – after making this point to organisers – ensured that some fresh food was added to the store of tinned and packaged goods by growing salads and vegetables and taking them to the food bank.

This year, the government’s rollout of its new benefits system has swelled the number of people seeking help because of the six-week delay before claimants receive payments. Some food banks may not be able to cope with the added strain on their resources, said Sam Stapley, operations manager at the Trussell Trust.

The Trussell Trust’s network, which covers two-thirds of distribution areas, saw a 6.64% average rise in referrals for emergency food in 2016/17, but a 16.85% increase in the universal credit rollout area.

  Newcastle West End food bank, the UK’s biggest, provides food for 1,000 people a week

Ten years ago, food banks were scarce. Many were started by volunteers concerned about people struggling financially. But they now form an essential part of Britain’s social safety net, with an estimated 2,000 distribution centres across the country. To use a food bank, a referral is needed, typically from the social service or housing support officers, but also from agencies such as local charities or Citizens Advice. Tens of thousands of volunteers nationally work more than 4m hours a year stocktaking, picking up and distributing food and fundraising, according to a recent study by the Trussell Trust, a national food bank network, and the Independent Food Aid Network.

The Trust is encouraging regional ‘plans of action’ so that food banks can better help each other plug gaps.

Streams of donations come from:

  • harvest festivals,
  • online appeals,
  • social events,
  • supermarket collection points,
  • a £3,000 crowdfunding appeal for a new Salford distribution centre,
  • Cardiff food bank’s recent auction of an ancient can of kidney beans raised £500.
  • Growing numbers of donations are coming from football matches.
  • Many businesses, in sectors from retail to financial services and energy, support food banks with goods or seconded staff.

Logistics, with many food banks based in ad hoc premises and receiving irregular stocks of food, is a major challenge. The Trussell Trust is meeting experts this month to discuss if its Coventry regional warehouse could become a national distribution base. Then the trust could accept big pallets of unwanted goods from corporate donors, split them into small consignments and distribute them.

 

 

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A message from Councillor Mary Locke about city cycling has been forwarded by Peter Walker, Chairman of the Stirchley Neighbourhood Forum.

Would-be cyclists are being invited to apply for the latest free bike giveaway. In 2015 more than 3,500 people received an orange bike (above) and cycled over 300,000 miles which improved their mental health and wellbeing. This time the emphasis will be on encouraging families to cycle together.

2000 free Raleigh bikes are being offered to families and residents in the most deprived communities as part of the next phase of the Big Birmingham Bikes scheme. Part of Birmingham City Council’s Birmingham Cycle Revolution, Big Birmingham Bikes aims to encourage people of all backgrounds to cycle regularly by offering free bikes to those unable to afford them.

To see the Autumn / Winter Programme click on this link. There is information on Ride Active sessions and Led Rides, free of charge.

Read all about how to apply for a free bike here.

Bike banks – a children’s bike loan scheme (for under 16s) available throughout the city, targeting the most deprived areas: information here.

Copies of the brochure will be available shortly at the council’s Wellbeing Centres.

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Birmingham Cycle Revolution is funded from various sources including City Council funds and successful bids to the Department for Transport and the Local Enterprise Partnerships.

 

 

 

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In a recent programme largely focussing on Port Sunlight in the Wirral, the presenter of the Juniper production for BBC Radio 4, Lynsey Hanley, rather gleefully noted the overturning of the Victorian ban on alcohol in the village of Bournville – a conservation area.

The Quaker Cadbury family, who practised temperance, ruled in 1895 that alcohol could not be consumed or sold within Bournville, in order to help workers to stay healthy.

 

Ms Hanley is advised to read the accurate statement in the Birmingham Post which explains that the 120-year-old ban on alcohol sales in Bournville remains in place.

Speaking after the decision at the council’s licensing sub-committee meeting, Peter Roach, the chief executive of the Bournville Village Trust, said that media reports had been “seeking to make a clear connection between George Cadbury’s Bournville Estate and the premises at Mary Vale Road which now have a licence to sell alcohol. He explained that the permission for a new off-licence changes nothing as the shop is outside the historic boundary of the Bournville Estate originally set by George Cadbury. 

Researchers, please note.

 

 

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Water taxis are already plying in several British cities, including London, Glasgow, Spalding, Lancaster, Leeds and Manchester.

In London, MBNA Thames Clippers is building a service for daily commuters, using Transport for London’s system which allows Londoners to hop on and off boats by swiping their Oyster and contactless cards. It carried 4 million passengers in 2016.

In Birmingham? As David Bailey tweeted whilst working in Venice:

https://twitter.com/dgbailey/status/855495899115638784/photo/1

MBNA are trying to reduce the environmental impact of their boats currently using diesel fuel. Change is on its way:

  • In Hamburg, HADAG has added a hybrid-powered ferry to its fleet crossing the Elbe river, using both diesel and electric power sources.
  • In Southampton, a company called REAPsystems has developed a hybrid system for water taxi boats, one able to switch easily between a fuel engine and electric motor. The company will take their hybrid water taxi boat to Venice next year, where a hotel operator will run it on a passenger route through the canals and out to the airport throughout the summer.
  • A member of the Commercial Boat Operators Association, Antoon Van Coillie, intends to convert his large continental barges to hydrogen fuel.
  • A team at Birmingham University (Project Leader Professor Rex Harris) has constructed a hydrogen-powered canal boat, tried and tested, which is undergoing further modifications.

Will the council and/or a Birmingham entrepreneur see the potential of waterway transport from the Soho Loop development?

Artist’s impression

Will Soho Loop’s new canal-side community be able to travel from their ‘variety of energy efficient homes’ to work or visit the city centre a mile away, by a cleaner quieter form of transport? 

 

 

 

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Connectivity, though identified as such in the Midlands Connect strategy report,  is not the greatest transport problem

The Midlands Connect Partnership and the Department for Transport have developed a transport strategy that identifies the major infrastructure projects needed to improve the connectivity of the region’s key locations and drive economic growth, but it omits any reference to waterway passenger and freight potential. 

Its ‘Final Strategy’ paper (left, March) has no canal or waterway references, 12 to congestion and only one to air pollution.

Sir John Peace, the current Chair of Standard Chartered plc and Burberry Group plc, has been appointed as Chair of the Midlands Engine and will continue to chair Midlands Connect. As his experience is in financial services and retailing, he needs to draw on the wealth of experience in organisations such as Freight for London, the Commercial Boat Operators Association (CBOA) and the Canals and River Trust (CRT). Though employment opportunities abound in the inland waterway transport sectors in India, Uganda, South Sudan and continental Europe, according to online advertisements, Midlands Connect appears to be unaware of the transport potential of waterways. 

Jonathan Guthrie, Financial Times Enterprise Editor, reported years ago that canals could regain their role as conduits for trade because of gridlock on the motorways according to a new study for West Midlands councils, the Highways Agency and British Waterways, which found “considerable potential for the reintroduction of freight on the canals”. What has changed?

He added that the findings will resonate with any driver who has ever watched narrowboats putter past on nearby canals while stuck on a motorway. A canal freight shuttle service between the Black Country and Birmingham could move 175,000 tonnes annually and save 61,750 urban lorry miles, the study found. All valid points today. 

The CRT report, Transport energy, planning for inland waterways freight, records evidence given to the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Rural Affairs Committee (ETRAC) 38 suggesting that there is significant traffic potential. One barge company claimed that, “without trying at all”, there was half a million tonnes of freight that could be transferred from road transport and that the Aire & Calder Navigation could quite easily take 2,000 lorries a day off local roads.

To create a more comprehensive strategy, Sir John Peace and the partnership could co-opt a number of people with the right expertise. One of many is Tim West of Robert Wynn and Sons Ltd. He was consulted about low bridges restricting the ability of the inland waterways to accommodate some cargo on certain stretches and replied that his firm has been able to carry large abnormal loads to locations such as Worcester, Leeds, Nottingham, Rotherham, York, Preston and Manchester. The Inland Navigator (above) sailed down the River Ouse carrying a transformer to Drax power station, avoiding a possible 15 mile tailback on the motorways.

London’s River Bus Express (above) run by Transport for London offers the public a regular service which is described in detail here – a model for other towns and cities. The city is also moving large amounts of water and construction materials by water.

The CRT report points out that it is Government policy to promote alternatives to road transport for both passenger and freight movements, partly to reduce congestion and partly to reduce the environmental impact of road transport.  

Inland waterways have the potential to assist in both these objectives.

 

 

 

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Cuts protest during the last Prime Minister’s Questions session before parliamentary recess. Support given by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Green leaders, Jonathan Bartley and MP Caroline Lucas.

British Medical Association calls for an end to a system harming the most vulnerable in our society

In their evidence to the Fifth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the BMA repeated its 2012 call for government to end it “with immediate effect and replace it with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society”.

Research by disabilities campaign group found more than 80 cases of suicide directly linked to billions of pounds in benefit cuts. Many other deaths have been indirectly linked to this regime:

  • In 2014, it was reported that David Clapson, a diabetic, had been found dead in his home. His benefits had been cut, he had no food in his stomach and the fridge that stored his insulin was not working because there was no credit on the electricity card.
  • A senior North London coroner spoke out, highlighting his inquest verdict that ‘Mr A’s’ suicide was triggered by a ‘fit for work’ assessment.
  • In 2010 Coroner Tom Osbourne blamed the death of Stephen Carré on a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions that the Employment and Support Allowance claimant, who was clinically depressed, was fit for work following a work capability assessment.
  • The suicides of Michael O’Sullivan and Julia Kelly, were also blamed on the result of work capability assessments by their respective coroners.

An academic paper, published in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in which examined 149 English council areas, found that nearly 600 suicides in England may be associated with the government’s “fit-for-work” tests. Oxford and Liverpool researchers looked at three years’ data and also found the Work Capability Assessments could be linked to a rise in mental health problems. The BBC reports that the study found the areas with most WCAs showed the sharpest increases.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to reveal their peer reviews of suicides linked to the sanctions

Disability rights campaigners, mental health charities and the families of claimants who killed themselves, or died after cuts to benefits, have argued that 49 DWP secret investigations or “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants should be published.

In April (2016) a decision was made by the First-tier Information Rights Tribunal that, pending any appeal by the DWP or the Information Commissioner’s Office, the government would have to hand over details of the circumstances of 49 deaths concerning claimants on benefits. The DWP was given five weeks to resolve the matter.

In May, following the successful legal challenge – John Pring v IC & Department of Work & Pensions – the DWP released the peer reviews of these cases but with many key words blacked out (redacted) and a Labour spokesman accused the Government of “rewarding failure” – giving new contracts to Capita and Atos.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities finds that UK welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights. Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the UN report’s findings 

Changes to benefits “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) found. The investigation was launched after receiving evidence from disability organisations about an “alleged adverse impact” of government reforms on disabled people. UN committee members visited London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast in October 2015 to identify any gaps in human rights protection for disabled people. As part of its inquiry, the CRPD also looked at a range of recent welfare reforms and legislation including the Welfare Reform Act 2012, Care Act 2014, and Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.

The BBC reported the UN inquiry’s conclusion that changes made to housing benefits and criteria for parts of the Personal Independence Payment, combined with a narrowing of social care criteria and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, “hindered disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community”.

2017 update: continuing the cruel cuts to those on low incomes and generous treatment of those already wealthy 

More than 160,000 people initially denied PIP have had this decision overturned since the benefit launched in 2013, according to DWP figures,

ITV News: the Motability charity, which allows disabled people to pay for specially adapted cars, from their benefits, reports that 900 people a week are having cars, scooters and even motorised wheelchairs taken from them – some losing their jobs as a consequence.

Motability also reports that 51,000 people have been taken off the scheme after a reassessment for personal independence payments (PIP) since it was launched in 2013 – 45% of all cases. 

The benefits budget is being repeatedly cut to pay for the ‘bailouts’ following the banking crisis and people are stripped of disability benefits or having them reduced by half. This is causing pressures which can leave them too sick to work, too poor to support themselves and too tired and frightened to appeal against these damaging decisions.

Even in comfortable ‘middle England’ the number of people who find this victimisation shameful and seek radical political change is growing.

 

 

 

A volunteer with the project has drawn our attention to the visit of a group of teenagers from Chernobyl who will be welcomed to Solihull this summer for a four week recuperative holiday, organised by Chernobyl Children’s Project Solihull Group (CCP). This year’s hosting marks the 31st anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

Youngsters aged between 13 and 15 from the CCP are in remission after treatment for brain tumours, leukemia, Hodgkins lymphoma, Wilm’s tumour, melanoma & neuroblastoma. They will travel from Belarus accompanied by a doctor and interpreters. While in the borough, fresh air and uncontaminated food will boost their damaged immune systems helping them to recover.

Each year a different group of children and accompanying adults are met at Manchester airport to stay for two weeks with host families and a further two weeks staying together in residential accommodation where local people volunteer to provide meals. Many trips and enjoyable activities have been planned for them. The children come from different areas and met for the first time recently at the Belarussian Embassy in Minsk, where they were granted visas to travel to the UK on the 29th July. They’ll be accompanied by interpreters Ira and Student Alina who will be returning to Solihull for a third time and this year they will be joined by first timer Doctor Tanya.

Last year they visited Barry Island

And Warwick Castle

 

This year CCP Solihull have received donations from many individuals, groups and companies; enabling us to bring the children to the UK. They have also held some successful fundraising events, including the recent Ladies Lunch which raised £2708. These gifts will not only bring the group to Solihull, but also improve the lives of disabled children and support cancer and hospice care in Belarus.

Anyone wishing to help with this year’s holiday, or wishing to make a donation, please contact Kath Ruane at kenkath.ruane@gmail.com 

Kath Ruane

Solihull Group Co-ordinator CCP (UK)

 

 

 

 

 

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 Royal College of Surgeons’ dean points to ‘sweet habits’ as first teeth are removed

It has been reported that NHS data obtained by the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) shows there were 9,206 extractions within the age group in 2015-16 compared with 7,444 in 2006-07 – a 24% rise. The figures prompted calls for parents, the government and the food industry to take action to reverse the alarming trend.

Prof Nigel Hunt, dean of the RCS’s Faculty of Dental Surgery, said: “When you see the numbers tallied up like this it becomes abundantly clear that the sweet habits of our children are having a devastating effect on the state of their teeth.

Hundreds of children are having their first teeth extracted as hospital treatments hit their highest level in six years in Birmingham.

There were 1,464 hospital admissions for teeth extractions for children from the Birmingham CrossCity CCG in 2015/16, the highest number since at least 2010/11, and up from 795 in 2014/15. In Sandwell and West Birmingham, the number of hospital admissions for teeth extractions has also hit a six year high, at 141 in 2015/16, up from 33 in 2014/15.#

The numbers have increased sevenfold since 2010/11

In 2010/11 there were 208 hospital admissions for tooth extraction. Included in the admissions were 297 for children aged between one and four to have multiple teeth extracted, the highest number since at least 2010/11, as well as 730 admissions for children aged five to nine, the highest number since at least 2010/11.

Ingesting fluoride at best ‘controversial’: at worst, causing some damage to health

A report by Birmingham Professor of Epidemiology, K.K. Cheng and Dr Trevor Sheldon published in the BMJ deemed the practice ‘controversial’.

More recently, corresponding author Professor Stephen Peckham, University of Kent commented on research he and two co-authors had undertaken and published in the BMJ: “We found that practices located in the West Midlands (a wholly fluoridated area) are nearly twice as likely to report high hypothyroidism prevalence in comparison to Greater Manchester (non-fluoridated area).

Last year Ian Wylie reported that around one million people in Birmingham are supplied with artificially fluoridated water. But its average number of extracted or filled teeth is 1.17, higher than the national average. Across the West Midlands, where water has been fluoridated since 1964, there has been a 300% rise in children under the age of 10 being admitted to hospital for multiple Mars, Cadbury, Kellogg’s and Nestlé teeth extractions in the last five years.

Post-script: The Times reports that a representative of leading brands including Mars, Cadbury, Kellogg’s and Nestlé (aka ‘food giants’) told their journalist that they would reduce sugar content in food and drink but not to the government’s timescale.

 

 

 

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