#SaveSouthend A&E

SSA&EMy statement in support of #SaveSouthend A&E as the Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate for Rochford and Southend East

“As the Labour Party Rochford and Southend East Parliamentary candidate for the election in June I am proud to support the campaign to save Southend’s A&E. Labour is listening and if elected into government we pledge to immediately halt the Tories’ ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plan’ (STP) programme and to insist that plans be redesigned around the needs of patients not the economic targets.

“A Labour Government will ask a new body – NHS Excellence – to lead that review with patients and local communities involved at every stage. Any proposed changes to local services must be driven by clinical evidence and patient need, not by financial considerations.

“Much of the chaos and confusion around our health services is caused by the Tories’ disastrous Health & Social Care Act, which we, along with professional and patient groups warned would have a terrible effect on the NHS. Our health services including primary care and adult social care are under massive pressure and it is clear that the Conservatives are going in the wrong direction. I pledge to work tirelessly for a whole healthcare system that is fit for the 21st Century.

“The NHS is not a ‘nice to have’ or a ‘luxury’, it is at the heart of what it is to be British and as a cancer survivor myself I know how crucial it is to us all. That’s why I am standing for Labour on the 8th of June and why I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you all to resist the attacks on our hospital and health services.

Ashley Dalton
Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate, Rochford and Southend East 

A Secondary chance

It is 3 years this week since I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer. The primary bit means the cancer is at a stage where it is either isolated to the breast or at least hasn’t got beyond lymph nodes in the armpit. It means that it’s probably curable. I spent almost a year being poisoned and blasted with radiation and having bits of me cut off. Since then, whilst it doesn’t cloud my every thought, it’s fair to say that every ache and pain fills me with fear and suspicion that the cancer may have come back or worse, may have spread.

Occasionally breast cancer has spread beyond the breast before it is diagnosed or it can spread very quickly during or soon after treatment for primary breast cancer. Breast cancer is also, as far as cancers go, a particularly tenacious beast and whilst many cancers rarely return after 5 years or so of being clear of the disease, breast cancer can appear in distant organs many years after primary treatment. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body it is called metastatic or secondary breast cancer and it is incurable.

Theresa May PM referred repeatedly to people who have “come through cancer” in a response to a question about secondary breast cancer at PMQs on 12th October 2016 showing that even she had no understanding of what secondary breast cancer is or means.

Secondary breast cancer doesn’t mean getting breast cancer twice. Nobody “comes through” secondary breast cancer.

So how many women and men develop secondary breast cancer? Well, we don’t know. Remarkable as it may seem there is no accurate, up-to-date data on the number of people diagnosed or living with secondary breast cancer in the UK. We know that around 11,600 people die of secondary breast cancer every year but we don’t know how many people are diagnosed each year, how long after primary diagnosis they are diagnosed, how long they live or even the extent of their disease.

In November 2012, The National Cancer Intelligent Network, a government agency that is part of Public Health England, wrote to all NHS Trusts in England mandating that data on secondary breast cancer be collected. As of September 2016 no such figures had been published. None.

Whilst figures have not been published that might not mean they aren’t being collected though and Breast Cancer Care undertook research to find out what NHS trusts are doing in relation to the requirement to collect data on secondary breast cancer. This is what they found:

  • Two thirds of trusts aren’t collecting the data they should be
  • 47.2% of trusts are collecting some but not all data
  • 19.8% of trusts are not collecting any data at all.

My local NHS Trust – Southend University Hospital is not collecting any data on secondary breast cancer. They do not know how many of us have secondary breast cancer. They do not know how long those with it live. They do not know how many of us need help, support or assistance and they do not know for how long. They do not know if the resources they have are adequate or if the services they deliver meet the needs of people with secondary breast cancer and their families.

My friend Maria was diagnosed with primary breast cancer at the same time as me. We live in the same area and come under the same NHS Trust. Maria developed a recurrence and secondary breast cancer within 18 months of primary diagnosis. She died just after Christmas in 2015. Our local hospital has not recorded her experience.

By not recording that data and the data of all the other people with secondary breast cancer they are missing an opportunity to ensure that everyone with secondary breast cancer gets the support and treatment they need.

What can you do?

  1. Check this Map at Breast Cancer Care to see if your local Trust is collecting data.
  2. If they are not, contact them and ask why. Here is a list of NHS Trusts in England and their contact details.

I have contacted my local trust and asked them why they are not collecting data and I will continue to lobby them until they do. Remember they are required to do this; they just aren’t.

I think people with secondary breast cancer deserve better than that.

I know Maria did.

It’s not just that refugees look too old; it’s that they don’t look destitute enough.

Complaints that teenage asylum seekers and migrants brought to Britain are not in fact under 18 years old betray some unsavoury prejudices. The mistrust of foreigners underlying these complaints is blatant. But is there something else at play as well? Maybe people feel these new arrivals don’t look young enough, but perhaps they don’t look poor enough either. British philanthropy was built on the idea that there is such a thing as a deserving poor and therefore an undeserving poor and it is stubbornly persistent. The elderly war veteran that has worked all his life and faces a freezing winter on a pitiful pension is somehow more deserving than the long term unemployed single mum raising her kids on food bank hand-outs. If these refugee children are not in fact children then perhaps they aren’t refugees either and not deserving of our help after all.

When I hear people questioning if these young men are young enough, I am reminded of a party my 16 year old daughter had once. The kitchen was full of teenagers and there was a group of around six young men – tall, muscular and brooding. I pulled my daughter to one side “Who are those men?” I demanded, “they must be 21 if they are a day!” “Mum, they’re in year 12. They are 17,” she said. “Oh!”

Teenage boys often look older than they are – British boys, and boys from the Calais Jungle. So maybe that’s what this is all about.

But perhaps there’s another reason behind the outcry. Age aside, maybe the asylum seekers just don’t look the way we expected. Because don’t we all, when asked to consider the plight of unaccompanied minors in the aptly named Calais Jungle, conjure up a certain image? A six year old orphan perhaps, innocent and wide-eyed; an open, grubby face with the trace of a tear; ideally dressed in rags with a hint at what was once a vibrant “ethnic” weave. Instead we are faced with a 15 year old boy in a hoodie strutting about and skulking on his mobile phone. The young men arriving this week don’t fit our idea of vulnerable child fleeing a war zone and so we feel cheated. We retaliate by subjecting them to trial by the press, violating their privacy with paparazzi and demanding that someone inspect their teeth.

Perhaps our most basic survival instincts require us to tell ourselves that these children are not like our children and that becomes difficult when we are confronted with children we assume will look different to ours, but then defy expectation. Our children are well fed and cared for. Our children would not be forced to journey alone across perilous seas in makeshifts rafts. Our children would not be forced to live in tents with adult strangers. Our children would not need to risk their lives to reach a foreign land and a long-lost relative that they have probably never met. These refugee children ought to be dishevelled and emaciated. But they are not. They look like our children.

When you can’t tell the difference between a 17 year old lad that has just crossed continents and lived in a makeshift camp for months on end, and your 17 year old that gets a lift to school when it rains and has his own bedroom fridge, then how on Earth are we to know the difference between them and us? Perhaps that’s what alarms us the most – that we can’t tell the difference between them and us; that perhaps there is no them and us. That there is just all of us and a teenage boy that needs a safe place to call home.

Are we nearly scared yet?

I can be melodramatic, it’s true, but I am actually getting quite close to scared now. It feels like we’re just a few steps from putting badges on foreigners and loading them onto cattle trucks.

Theresa May sending a bus around the streets of Britain in 2013 to tell illegal immigrants to “GO HOME” seemed a low point. But with a speech from the Home Secretary being compared to Mein Kampf and the PM redefining immigration control as basically getting rid of foreigners it seems we can go lower, much lower than we ever thought possible.

In response Corbyn’s Labour might re-assert the economic arguments that immigration is good for the country, call 52% of the electorate racist or, if in stroppy teenager mode, simply refuse to talk about it.

UKIP just won a council by-election in Hartlepool with almost 50% of the vote.

The Tories know how to play this one; it’s dead easy. They’ve been playing it under the radar for decades, particularly in local elections, and Brexit is all the permission they need to lay out their anti-foreigner stall with pride. Anna Soubry will be a mild irritant but they’ll win votes. Where they don’t win votes UKIP will and that won’t really matter because they’ll be taking votes from Labour so it’s fine. I refer you to that Hartlepool by-election result.

Labour hates it. Labour would rather not talk about it at all but if they must they will say that people should be able to come and go as they please and it’ll all work out it in the end. It is the one and only issue on which Corbyn’s Labour Party adopts a laissez faire, market forces will work it out approach.

But of course this is the Left and there has to be some kind of public division so the centerists are begging for a conversation about immigration and being told they are racist and should go join the Tories and the Left of Corbyn (yes, there is such a thing) are hanging up banners saying “British Jobs for British Workers” and wondering if it would condemn their mortal souls to secretly vote Tory or if they might be able to get away with it.

Meanwhile, the pound plummets and foreign workers in the NHS (a quarter of all doctors) are put on a countdown to deportation. British ex-pats are suing Junker and a man is murdered in Harlow for openly speaking Polish.

Like I said, I’m getting quite close to scared now.

border

Now is the best time to be a moderate in the Labour Party.

Labour Party Conference 2016 had the potential to be a miserable affair for moderates but I feel energised and excited about what lies ahead.

We’re all a bit bruised after the second leadership contest. Some of us are angry and confused. Moderates have heard, over and over again, that if we don’t like the current direction of the party we should set up on our own.

I spent a lot of time at conference talking to folk about why they shouldn’t leave the party. People told me that with Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election perhaps now is the time to bow out gracefully. But now, for the sake of the people we seek to serve, it is critical for moderates to stay, bringing every ounce of skill, passion and commitment to the party’s renewal and survival.

In May 1997 we wept and cheered with joy at the dawn of the New Labour government. We went on to truly transform the lives of ordinary people. It was brilliant.

But nothing lasts forever. Ideas that aren’t revised, tested and challenged yellow pretty quickly. When the core of New Labour began to hollow out, we didn’t respond quickly or decisively enough. As the vacuum of ideas grew, the Left filled it in the party and the Right filled it in the country. We relied on our track record to win the continued support of the electorate but we forgot that there is no such thing as common sense or an indisputable truth.

300,000 of our members believe Corbyn’s Labour is what the electorate have all been waiting for; that the only thing preventing the public voting Labour in droves so far has been a lack of a true Socialist alternative. If Corbyn is carried into Downing Street on a tidal wave of a Socialism, good on him. If that doesn’t happen, however, and we haemorrhage council and parliamentary seats and become an electoral irrelevance, we’re going to need a plan B.

In his speech to conference, Corbyn said that, under a Labour government, “when there are credible reports of human rights abuses or war crimes being committeed, British arms sales will be suspended, starting with Saudi Arabia”.

If we ever get a chance to put that apparently laudable plan into action it would be celebrated as a great achievement – until we realised that it would achieve absolutely nothing at all. Someone else would sell Saudi Arabia weapons. Whilst we would be able to sleep better at night, and hold our hands up and say “Nothing to do with me, G’vnor”, it would not actually end terror and war. We would assuage our guilt but little else.

The same goes for moderates stepping back or stepping out of the party. “It wasn’t me” will be no defence. If we sit back and let others get on with it, our lack of commitment will be blamed for the crushing electoral defeat that could follow. If we attempt to build a new party, our splitting of the vote will be blamed for a Labour defeat.

But blame aside, when the country is weeping at the onslaught of Tory policies and let down by an inward-looking Labour Party, we must have more than apology or an embryonic party to stand on; we must have a viable, ready-to-go alternative.

Corbyn euphoria won’t last forever. There won’t be 300,000 members cheering when we have 100 MPs and barely two councils to rub together. And when it all comes crumbling down, I want the majority of Corbyn’s supporters – who are not diehard Trots or Communists or Marxists but just people who want to make a difference – to know that they still can. I want to be ready to engage all of the party with new, challenging and exciting ideas that expose the 20-year-old ideas – rehashed to fit into 140 characters – for what they are.

We need the brightest and the best to lead the renewal of our party and ambition for our country (yes, Jon Cruddas MP, I’m looking at you). We must ensure that when the scales fall from the eyes of the devoted, we have more to offer them than a shrugged “I told you so”. Working together to come up with intelligent, radical ideas is a really exciting prospect. So don’t leave; roll up your sleeves. There’s work to be done.

Oh wow! That’s so Tumblr!

I was going to start a new blog today. I started the page and everything and took a couple of pictures but then I started writing it and decided it was crap. It was preachy and dull. It was meant to be about my passion for vegetable boxes and buying meat by the half animal. Anyone who has ever eaten anything with me will know how I feel about buying meat by the half animal and how dedicated I am to vegetable box schemes, but half way through the first post I realised that it’s just boring. Who cares?

Then I went and read some stuff on the internet and got even more annoyed. I mean, what is it all for? This endless self promotion and marketing of our own lives? So many of us presenting our daily lives on social media and dressing it up to be ever so pretty and perfect.

It has become a standing joke that something hasn’t really happened until it’s on Facebook. No one is interested in buying a coffee that doesn’t look good enough to put on Tumblr and if your weekend isn’t documented in sepia tinged retro camera style images on instagram then frankly, you’re just not taking life seriously, are you?

It’s like this mass social delusion. I am guilty of it too. I don’t consider myself any better than the rest of us.  Last week I put a picture of my herb tray on Facebook and Twitter. My herb tray! I found it in the shed and it’s made of galvanised steel, how wonderfully Tumblr! I had used magnetic scrabble letters to spell out the names of the herbs. I think of it now and I hate myself for it. I don’t hate myself for having a galvanised steel herb tray or for using the scrabble letters to spell out the names of herbs. It looks lovely on my kitchen windowsill. I hate the fact that apparently looking lovely on my kitchen windowsill is no longer good enough. It has to be shared on the internet, too. It has to gather likes and shares and comments.

herbsLook, I’ve done it again. I have put the bloody thing on the internet, again!

Now, ok, so it is my herb tray and who cares if I share pictures of it on the internet? It’s real isn’t it? It wasn’t a lie. I do actually own that herb tray and it does, is, right now, sitting on my kitchen window sill, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that, obviously, I only show you what I want you to see and it is woefully lame that I think my herb tray will enhance what you think of me.

We’ve always done this of course, it’s not a new idea, it’s just that once upon a time presenting your best side to the world meant cleaning your shoes and putting your best coat on. Now it means instagramming your organic pearled spelt risotto with beetroot and goats cheese (That’s what I am having for dinner tonight, heaven help me!) and making sure you do so using the right artisan bowl and retro cutlery. It means arranging and presenting every aspect of our lives as though we lived in a lifestyle shoot in The Guardian – Weekend.

Now’t wrong with wanting things to look pretty, though is there? Well, no, not in itself, but I suspect there are more sinister desires at play. I suspect that what we are really doing when we Tumblr our cupcakes or Facebook a snap of our new artfully scuffed shoes as they carry us along Shoreditch High Street, has very little to do with sharing our terribly interesting lives and a lot more to do with reassuring ourselves that we have remotely interesting lives in the first place.

Gems

Here’s a poem my wife has written about me having cancer.

Rachel Dalton Writes

With you out of the house for now,
Tethered to a narrow bed by a needle in the hand, I
Lean in doorways, wondering: how

Do you always fix the boiler?
By what logic do you decide
Where all of our furniture goes,
And where do you keep tomorrows?

I know I stashed away a few
(Vague, unlikely to be our prime)
But you piled up glistening chances,
Mapping us out over acres of time,

Conjuring days out of thin air,
Sewing fantasy with future
You’d say “Let’s throw a masked ball!
Let’s disappear with nothing at all

But a camper van and a coffee pot!”
I’d smile and think myself solid,
A frame on which to spin your dreams.
Doggedly keeping the present clean

I chucked todays out of the back
With fag-ends, newspapers and tins.
Now I’d kill to open a door
And find those days you laid…

View original post 29 more words

The best way to make sure they don’t chop off the wrong tit is to use a magic marker.

Since I last blogged I have got used to not being chemically poisoned (at least directly) every 3 weeks and undergone major surgery. It became clear that whilst the chemo had done the trick in shrinking the tumour in my breast and lymph nodes a mastectomy was still going to be the wisest option. I wasn’t devastated by this. I hadn’t imagined that chemo would mean I could choose breast conserving surgery and none of the medical team had indicated at any point that this would be the case so I was ready for my mastectomy.

I went into hospital early morning of the 11th June, my wife’s birthday. I am a bit annoyed that my mastectomy was on my wife’s birthday. Not because it ruined her day; it’s just one birthday and it couldn’t be helped, but because it means that in the future I am unlikely to forget the date of the op. Normally I forget the details of such things almost instantly. There was a lot of waiting to do. I did an awful lot of sitting around talking too loudly and far too jollily and probably pissing off all the poorly people on the ward.

Boring things like blood pressure and temperature were taken. I was given one of those awful open backed gowns to eventually change into. Several hours after I arrived a doctor turned up. We had a chat about what was going to happen and then he got a Sharpie and drew a massive arrow on my chest pointing at my right breast and wrote Mx ANC 3 on it. Brilliant! I bloody loved that bit. All that medical prowess and technology and actually the best way to make sure they don’t chop off the wrong tit is to use a magic marker.

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Several hours passed until eventually, at around 5pm, Kenny came to take me down to theatre. I wasn’t allowed to walk which I wasn’t thrilled about. I like to be conspicuously healthy and independent wherever possible. As the anaesthetist struggled to get a cannula into my now shy and uncooperative veins Casper the friendly surgeon came to say hi, check I was still happy to go ahead and double check that they’d marked up which breast he was to take off. I checked that he was feeling ok and had had a fag. I didn’t want Casper the friendly surgeon getting nicotine withdrawal in the middle of my mastectomy.

The next thing I knew I was being wheeled back upstairs and being offered a cup of tea. My first words after coming round were “Have I got a drain in?” I was hoping I didn’t have to have a wound drain but it was not to be. I obviously make a lot of fluid so a wound drain there was. Thankfully I was prepared with a rather nifty Cath Kidston fabric drain bag to carry it around in. For the uninitiated a wound drain is a tube that is sewn into you, near your wound, that drains yellowy bloody fluid out of you and into a plastic bag. It is not pretty and is much improved if you keep it in a pretty cotton bag with flowers on it. The drain bag also sits over your shoulder which means that you don’t forget to drag it with you when you go to the loo which is apparently an excruciating mistake.

I had my cup of tea, got out of that horrid hospital gown ASAP and put on my own nightshirt and employed the drain bag. By 10:40pm I was having my second cup of tea and some toast. I’d been nil by mouth since midday and was ravenous.

I was amazed that I could use my arm. I’d expected to be severely incapacitated but far from it. I could drink my tea no problem and wasn’t in any pain. When the nurse asked if I needed pain relief I said I was thinking of pinching myself as I couldn’t feel a thing. After the tea and toast I got out my eye mask and ear plugs, shut out the rest of the ward and went back to sleep. If you ever have to stay in hospital take an eye mask and ear plugs. They will save your sanity.

Sitting here, 10 days after my op and thinking about waking up the next day, there are tears in my eyes. On the morning of 12th June 2014 I woke feeling utterly elated. For the first time in 6 months I was waking up without what I knew to be a massive great cancerous tumour in my breast. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and I had been given yet more tea and toast. I could have danced.

I still feel great about it. The dressings have come off, the drain has come out and things seem to be going well. I am a bit swollen and starting to hurt a bit but I have paracetamol and exercises to help me regain full mobility. Apart from heavy lifting and hoovering I can pretty much use my arm normally.

I don’t have a right breast anymore. This is true. It’s ok though. It’s not as weird as you might think. I was keen to have a look ASAP and it’s a very neat scar. My wife and my mum both had a look and we’ve all oohed and ahhed at it and given it a prod. It’s quite cool actually.

It’s amazing that you can cut off a breast and heal and be ok. My body is amazing.