Monthly Archives: September 2012

Rory Backs Remote Rural Community Blazing a Fibre Trail

Rory has welcomed news that the Fell End Rural Community Broadband Project – based in a small corner of Ravenstonedale Parish – has sent out its Invitation to Tender and is now close to going out to procurement, which will ultimately connect an isolated community of 58 properties, covering an area of approximately 10 square miles, to high speed broadband. This resident-led project aims to deliver super-fast broadband across some of the most challenging terrain in England. Many of the properties currently have broadband speeds of less than 0.5mbps with some of the properties receiving no broadband service at all.

Rory said: “It is fantastic news that Fell End hope to procure their service provider over the next couple of weeks. This is a perfect example of how communities and telecomms providers can meet half-way and find imaginative, tailored solutions to unique infrastructure problems. Fell End continue to lead the way on national policy in community broadband projects, and I am delighted to have supported them this far. They have been instrumental in the creation of the Rural Community Broadband Fund, and continue to set a national example.”

Project leader Libby Bateman said: “The telecommunications infrastructure in the valley is direct buried copper which was originally installed in the 1930s (interestingly, that was a community-led project too).  We recognised early on in the project that we would need to install new infrastructure if we were to deliver a future-proof and reliable broadband service to our properties. This project began over 2 years ago and we have had many barriers to overcome along the way, but the pieces are all falling into place now and we hope to be going out to procurement for our service provider in the next couple of weeks. We have been extremely lucky to be given support for the project by the Princes Countryside Fund and the DEFRA Rural Community Broadband Fund along side contributions of cash and wayleave agreements from the community the network will serve.”

Fell End is part of the Upper Eden Community Plan who were part of the Eden Valley Vanguard for the Big Society.


Rory Celebrates Cumbria’s Telestroke Service Success


Rory visited the Cumberland Infirmary’s Telestroke Service on Friday, where he congratulated the team behind the success of this flagship service, which allows consultants to monitor and diagnose stroke patients remotely.

The presentation, led by the Cumberland Infirmary’s Dr Paul Davies, explained how the Telestroke Service, which links 15 stroke consultants from eight hospitals across Lancashire and Cumbria, has managed to  deliver over 300 assessments and “thrombolysed” nearly 150 patients since its set up last summer. Through the use of high-speed broadband technology (it currently uses a speed of 1920kbps), there is now 24/7 thrombolysis treatment available for local stroke patients, with consultants able to conduct a ‘two-way’ conversation, and subsequent assessment, virtually.

Rory, long-time campaigner for the roll-out of super-fast and 4G broadband services in Cumbria, said that the Telestroke Service was “another fine example of the positive impact that broadband technology can have on rural communities”.

Speaking at the event, he said: “Telehealth initiatives, like this service, offer significant potential to patients within rural constituencies like my own, where service provisions are often limited. I look forward to the day when a strong and sustainable broadband network, and the wide adoption of telehealth services, means that living in a relatively isolated community need not mean reduced access to essential healthcare services. I was extremely impressed by the work that is being done by staff here at the Infirmary, and look forward to seeing similar services being adopted in our Cumbrian hospitals – both in the acute Trusts, and in our community hospitals.”



Rory Promotes Cumbrian Model as he Fights for Community Hospitals in Parliamentary Debate

Rory argued the nation should learn from Cumbrian community hospitals in a House of Commons debate on the future of community hospitals.

Rory – who is also Treasurer of the APPG on Rural Services – used the debate to highlight the essential healthcare services that community hospitals provide to residents within rural communities. He argued that the network of support from local charities, which often use their community hospital as a focal point, provides a level of local care, built on local knowledge and compassion, which just would not be otherwise available. Citing examples from his own constituency, he mentioned the essential work of charitable organisations like Eden Carers, Hospice at Home, CRUSE bereavement, The Eden Valley Hospice, Alzheimers and the air ambulance and Mountain Rescue teams in ensuring that even isolated residents could still receive the care they need. Together they meant that admissions to Cumbrian hospitals were seventy per cent lower than in other parts of the North-West.

He argued that the key challenge for the future of healthcare is that facing ageing communities, where again Cumbria was a national example.  Speaking in the debate, Rory said: “With over one third of constituents about to be over 65, and the number over 85 doubling, what we often need is not necessarily the technical expertise of the acute hospitals, but the preventative care led from community hospitals.”

Rory has worked closely with the Community Hospital Association, his constituency’s Leagues of Friends representatives, made several visits to local community hospitals, and hosted two Cumbrian community hospital visits to parliament in the last few months. Far from competing with Acute hospitals, Rory suggested that Acute Hospitals often rely on their satellite community hospitals for supplementary diagnostic and ancillary treatment, as well as much needed extra bed capacity. Furthermore, he argued community hospitals could – following the model pioneered by Dr.John Howarth at Cockermouth – act as a central hub bringing medical professionals, volunteers, and community organisations together to help people remain healthier longer. It is for this reason that he has called on the Department of Health to increase its budget for community directed care

Press statement from Rory on DVLA Services at Local Post Offices

“I have been contacted by a great number of constituents concerned about the future of DVLA services at the Post Office, and I fully appreciate their concerns and thank them for getting in touch. Currently, DVLA is running a procurement competition for the services that are presently provided by the Post Office. It is required by EU law to competitively tender this contract and it is, therefore, a fully open and entirely commercial process and one which the Government cannot take sides on. However, the Government has made clear that it wants to see the Post Office become a genuine ‘front office’ for Government at both national and local levels. I completely agree with this position, as Post Offices are a natural place for people to access government services such as identity verification.

Many valuable services are already available, which we all use on a regular basis, such as managing “Passport Check & Send” on behalf of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS); accessing simple bank accounts for those receiving benefits, state pensions and tax credit payments; and, most recently, the collection of biometric data for the residence permits. I fully support our Post Offices as an ideal place to continue to run such services.

I understand that the Post Office continues to actively engage with Government to explore how it will deliver more services such as these. The Post Office is further expanding its existing identity verification capability, which is becoming increasingly important as more services can be delivered online, and is developing new services to help those who are unable to access services or information online, such as print-on-demand kiosks. In areas such as Cumbria, it is particularly important that we continue to use our Post Offices as convenient and efficient centres for such services, and I shall certainly ensure that Ministers are made aware of the acute level of concern here in Penrith and the Border.”

Alone on the Marches

I recently came to the end of five weeks walking in Cumbria and the Borders. It was a thirty nine mile day, and twelve of those fourteen hours were spent in almost empty space. In a car I can be transported at a mile a minute from centre to centre – from one room with people, a timetable and a purpose, to another twenty miles away: from the George in Penrith to Appleby Grammar, from the munitions depot at Longtown to the Local Links centre in Wigton. But walking makes each yard of ground equal, draws you into the space between centres – which is now often unpeopled.

It once seemed as though industrialisation would replace the countryside, littering it with brick walls, concrete paths and people. In the 1930s George Orwell gazed horrified at the rotting detritus, the scars, and the smoke spreading across the North. But walking reveals that the last two hundred years has not filled but emptied much of the land. So, on this journey, my walking companions – farmers, and officers from Natural England and the Environment Agency; archaeologists, nuclear activists and painters; school-teachers and doctors; climbers and pensioners – joined me at villages. Between the villages I saw almost no-one. Walking alone, I could note the swathes of Yorkshire fog and cock’s foot grass, or the thick cropped form of an oak stubbornly wedged on an abandoned dyke. I could wonder whether this now marshy field had once been drained by the Romans, or by the monks of Abbeytown, by Mr.Curwen the Georgian improver, or by post-war subsidies; and question why the ragwort was flourishing  or why the bracken was turning early.  But there was rarely anyone to answer.

It would have been different not so long ago. The tranquil, silent country by Hayeswater or above Glenridding, by Caldbeck or opposite Threlkeld, was filled once with miners and quarry-men. When my father began in the forestry commission, a hundred men, with axes and saws, did the work now performed by two harvesting and forwarding machines. The village of Bampton was packed with cobblers and carpenters, weavers and small shopkeepers. There were six farms for each farm that survives today, and each small farm once employed four people. In Swindale there were enough houses for a church, where there are now only two families, and the faint outlines of ruined cottages. The tracks between valleys, now deep in heather, would once have been pounded by people carrying, visiting, running errands. And you would have seen and been greeted by dozens working in the fields and along the fellside.

It is still like that in Asia. A remote boulder, at four thousand feet, will act as a throne for a shepherd watching a dozen goats grazing the bare and flinty soil. Each orchard in Iran contains a man on a carpet with a battered metal tea pot. Men in peaked hats and tight cotton trousers sprint past you on narrow tracks in Nepal. Tea-houses are built on stilts for walking villagers, five days from the nearest road.  Country people do not move much but they can reel off the qualities of streams, the positions of trees, the names of men twenty miles away. In winter you watch farmers steering the oxen and the heavy plough through the mud, and in the autumn see the animals circling slowly around the stone threshing floor, and the golden cloud of grain flung into the air from winnowing trays.

But in Cumbria now, even in August, many of the great national trails are unused – it sometimes felt as though the millions of pounds of trails, and signs, and stiles were used by no-one except me. All the arcs of the ridgelines, the ash branches – alive in the wind – the flocks and the herds were unseen by human eyes. It is no longer worth someone sitting all day to guard a hundred sheep. More money can be made from selling a farmhouse as a rural mansion than from agriculture. Government policy and subsidies and schemes have paid farmers to stock less, use less ground, turn more and more over to wind-turbines, or to nature.

We have achieved miracles in undoing the damage of industrialisation: the meadows have re-emerged over landfill sites and open-cast mines; and there is mile after mile of new rowan, and birch, oak and ash, by highways, on old rail tracks, and along the sides of deep gills. But we must now push back towards people. It is the people, and the lambs they keep, and the barns they build and use, and the fields they manage, which make Cumbria something more than long hills of empty heather, or a pale pink patch of sphagnum moss on re-flooded peat.  It is cheaper now for many families to fly to Spain than to visit us. But what will continue to bring them here is not the weather, nor the food, nor even the wildlife, but a landscape which is British and Cumbrian: because it is human. Visitors draw their delight and energy from farmers and a working landscape and locals, like visitors, flourish from these human encounters. We delight in a land where centuries of effort, of stories, of habitation can be traced in, and continue to be worked into, the limestone ridges and the free-draining soil. The alternative to industrial pollution and human damage should not be – cannot be –  for our joy, or our economic future, simply a ‘natural’ wilderness.


Rory Speaks on Community Hospitals


I feel shy speaking in front of this extremely distinguished audience. It is impressive to take part in a debate involving people with so much expertise. I was impressed by the extraordinary confidence with which my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) said things that we would not dare say to any of our constituents by calling for the closure, no less, of one of the community hospitals in Bracknell on the grounds of efficiency. The sense that expertise can deliver controversial and exciting policies is moving. It is also moving for me to be able to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for securing the debate, and to congratulate the Minister on her new position.

The debate on community hospitals should be held in a larger debate, and it is a debate that Conservatives should be proud to have: the ancient debate of the big against the small. The reason community hospitals are under threat, have been under threat and always will be under threat—I mean this not in a political sense, but simply ideologically—is the problem of the small.

In 2005, one in four members of the population in Cumbria signed a petition to keep our community hospitals open. Today, we face serious issues of the internal market and the tariff structure of the NHS, which may make it tempting for commissioners not to refer patients to community hospitals. All of that is about big and small. It is the same argument as that between the big supermarket and the small shop and between the small dairy farm and the big dairy farm.

This argument goes all the way back to the foundation of the NHS. One remembers Bevan’s great statement:

“I would rather be kept alive in the efficient if cold altruism of a large hospital than expire in a gush of warm sympathy in a small one.”—[Official Report, 30 April 1946; Vol. 422, c. 44.]

In that moment, Bevan, in founding the NHS, set up the fundamental challenge. My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell expressed the problem clearly in explaining that in the choice between acute surgical care and local care of chronic conditions, we have the choice between fancy machines, specialisation and surgeons who perform the same operation again and again, and what is required for a new situation and a new population. We are no longer in the late 1940s.

If I may be so presumptuous in this distinguished company, I will put Cumbria forward as an example. We are an interesting example, because we are ahead of the rest of the country in one thing: Cumbria has more deaths than births, but a rising population. That is not, as one might imagine, because we have discovered resurrection; it is because we have old people moving to our constituency. The population of the constituency is getting older at a national record rate. We are about to go from one in six of the population being over 65 to one in three of the population being over 65. The number of people who are over 85 is about to double. The number of people with Alzheimer’s in my constituency is about to double. All that points, above all, to one thing—community hospitals. What people at that age need is not necessarily the technical services and equipment that are provided by acute hospitals, nor the specialties of their surgeons, but preventive care. That can be delivered through the hubs of which we have all spoken.

To give a local example, my neighbour recently broke her hip. To many of us in this Chamber, that seems fundamentally to be a problem of cost. It costs £350 to move her in an ambulance from her home to the hospital, it costs a minimum of £2,000 to admit her to the hospital, and it costs tens of thousands of pounds in ongoing costs as she struggles to get better and gets into other chronic conditions. But why did she fall? She fell because her husband died. The chance of somebody dying doubles in the year following the death of their husband. She was in trouble because she could not get anybody to take her to an optician. She was not eating properly, because nobody was able to take her to the supermarket regularly.

Those are things that the extraordinary network of local charities and community activity is in a fantastic position to provide, guided by the community hospital. In Cumbria, Cruse Bereavement Care provides counselling to people who are bereaved and Eden Carers could perhaps have taken my neighbour to the optician. Every Member has such organisations in their constituency.
They have their equivalents of Hospice at Home and the Eden Valley hospice. There are also the first responders and other members of the emergency services. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) champions the air ambulance and others of us champion mountain rescue. It goes all the way down to Age UK and the Alzheimer’s Society. Indeed, we have made fantastic progress in neuroscience support at a community hospital level.

I conclude with a plea to the Minister. This is not just about good language. It is easy to talk about prevention, but also very easy to carry out bad prevention and waste an enormous amount of money tacking down carpets in the houses of people who do not need their carpets tacked down. My constituency includes surprised people who have suddenly found themselves given a new shower that they did not particularly feel they needed. What we need is the local knowledge, care and compassion that can target those resources. The Minister is now in a position to move just 2% or 3% of the budget towards community hospitals and community care and away from acute trusts.


Cumbria gathers for Community Hospital meeting in Westminster ahead of Chamber Debate


Prior to Thursday’s House of Commons debate on community hospitals, a record number of Cumbrian community hospital staff came to Parliament yesterday, where they met with Rory. A significant number of attendees at the Westminster tea, celebrating the work of community hospitals in Britain, were from Cumbria. They included Val Ogilvy, Sister at Wigton Hospital; Maureen Goldwater and Patricia Birtle, Sisters at Workington Community Hospital; Dr John Howath, GP at Cockermouth; Ann Taylor, Sister at Cockermouth Hospital; and Helen Boit, Sister at Penrith & Eden Community Hospital.

Dr. Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the cross-party and non-governmental organisation CHANT (Community Hospitals Acting Nationally Together) said: “Cumbria has been one of the national leaders in community hospitals. We are all learning from Cumbria, and it was wonderful to see Cumbria represented here today in such strength.”

Dr. John Howarth, Cockermouth GP and Director of Integration at Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust, said: “One in four Cumbrians signed petitions to save their community hospitals in 2005, and they won. Since then they have achieved extraordinary results, including lower acute admissions than anyone in the north-west, and very high patient satisfaction levels with the service they receive. We have to ensure these unique Cumbrian assets are supported and treasured and developed.”

Rory said: “Cumbria’s community hospitals really are setting the national standard. Five years ago we were in crisis and facing mass closure. Now we are providing a national lead and example. Our community hospitals, and their Leagues of Friends, are needed now more than ever, and they are helping to shape national policy. We need to show how our community hospitals are helping during hard winters, when acute hospitals have found it difficult to operate without community beds, also avoiding costly acute admissions, and highlight the important work they do as centres for diagnostic and ancillary treatment. There is a growing place for our community hospitals, and – as ever – Cumbria is leading the way.”