Tuesday, 30 December 2014

#SaveTheDal - New Year's Parade - Saturday January 3 - Ballycastle

"Dr Gavin McDonnell MB, BCh, MD, FRCP. the leading consultant neurologist specialising in Multiple Sclerosis, has offered to help and advise Moyle Council and ‘Save the Dal’ campaign on proposals to secure improved provision of respite services for patients suffering from MS and other neurological conditions.

This is excellent news, Dr McDonnell is recognised as a leader in the field of neurology, and he played an instrumental role in setting up the main outpatient clinic for MS at Belfast City Hospital and the new purpose built unit at Musgrave Park. His contribution will therefore be very valuable and must carry great influence with Health Trust decision makers."

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Save the Ulster Orchestra - BBC - A Question of Equality

George Bain: "The reason that we are in grave financial difficulties is again quite simple.  Like most arts organisations, our two main income streams are from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, on the one hand, and, secondly, the BBC pays us — that is partly BBC Northern Ireland and partly Radio 3 — for the music that we supply to it.  Over the last four years the funding from both those sources has declined by 28%, which is roughly £1 million in real terms.  For an organisation that was underfunded and under-resourced — neither the players nor the staff have had a pay rise since 2008, and the orchestra has not been able to tour for 10 years, long before the cuts came — it simply means that we are not viable."

John Myerscough produced a report in 1912 into BBC's Performing Groups- London (2), Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow. [link to report included in BBC article].

The Ulster Orchestra has a different funding structure to these Performing Groups but could it be getting a fairer share of licence payers' money?

Kevin Magee has produced some figures: UO costs £4.5m/yr; BBC gives £0.64m. According to that 2012 Myerscough report, a BBC orchestra costs about £6.1m of which the BBC contributes about £5.2m. Arts Council Wales contributes £0.8m.

In other words, for every £1 the BBC licence payers contribute to the BBC's performing groups, they contribute 13p to the Ulster Orchestra.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

#SaveTheDal - Ballycastle by candlelight - Thursday, December 4

Carry A Torch For The Dal

Ballycastle Chronicle: 'Do the right thing'

Heard in court today:

'If the learned gentleman does not use that in his closing argument, 
I will eat my wig.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Bushmills Christmas Tree 2014


They say there are two sides to every story 
- and here are the two sides of the Christmas tree 
that Moyle District Council has had erected in Bushmills.

It looks as if it has been dragged through a hedge!

The 'morning after the night before' look

Today's replacement

If the first was damaged in transit, why was it erected?

Added December 5

Why wasn't the cherry-picker used?
It was in Bushmills a few days ago.

The headless turkey look

Lighting problems in 2011

This blog has attracted a lot of attention but a tree is much less important
than the threat to the future of Dalriada Hospital in the north-east corner of County Antrim
[Facebook link]

Friday, 21 November 2014

#SaveTheDal - Farmer Fury Tractor Rally in Ballycastle

"Minister braves the protesters at Dalriada"
Anne Kelly video
#‎savethedal Farmer Fury Tractor Rally In Ballycastle .... what an amazing turnout ...so proud of our community and the way they have pulled together and supported this. .. Anne
Nicole's video :: Danny's video

Tractor convoy on Quay Road

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust may attempt to restrict the flow of information by postponing Board meetings, discontinuing corporate communication updates and other means but silencing critics is no easy task in this modern media age.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

#SaveTheDal - Ministerial points to ponder

Time is running out
Will the shutters come down this week?

The NHSCT Board appears to have run for cover
It's usual November meeting has been pushed back to December 2
ie after the 'temporary' closure date, November 30

The NHSCT Board ceased publication of its corporate communications updates in June 2014.
This means less information for Board members and staff as well as for concerned citizens.
It symbolises a retreat to the bunker.

Might the enforced changes lead to an increase in operational costs rather than a decrease?

Why change what isn't broken to an untested new arrangement?

Letter from the previous Health minister, Edwin Poots, earlier this year.

Did the level of commissioned activity decrease through lack of interest/promotion 
or was a decision taken to curtail it?

Edwin Poots, ex-Health minister, and Tony Stevens, NHSCT CEO

Official language can be so slippery!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

#SaveTheDal - Another letter to the Minister

A letter to Mr Wells from the Ballycastle Community Development Group and Paul Kerrigan's family:

Mr Jim Wells MLA
Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Room 218
Parliament Buildings
17 November 2014

Dear Minister,

Re: Proposed closure of Dalriada Hospital, Ballycastle

I write to you on behalf of Ballycastle Community Development Group, but also on a personal basis. The community of Ballycastle and beyond are deeply concerned and dismayed at the news of the intention, by you and your Department, to close the Dalriada Hospital in Ballycastle.

In the first instance, it has been published that the proposed ‘temporary’ closure will result in a potential saving of £0.6 million to the [Northern Health and Social Care] Trust. It would appear at first glance that the decisions that have been made, have been based on a somewhat flawed economical base and the proposed savings are minuscule in the grand scheme of things. However, the direct impacts on a rural community, staff and patients are unquantifiable.

There are 20 intermediate beds in Ballycastle, each of which costs £850 per week, which equates to a total weekly bed cost of £17,000. In comparison, an acute bed, according to published Northern Trust's figures, costs between £2,100 and £2,800 a week, taking a medium figure of £2,350. This would result in a cost of £47,000 per week equating to a direct increase in costs to the Trust of some £30,000 per week. This, in anyone’s eyes, DOES NOT make economic sense.

Between December 2013 and August 2014, the average occupancy for those beds in Dalriada was 92%, which is extremely high. It would have been higher had it not been for the loss of days due to transport delays in the Northern Trust. That would add another 6% to that figure, which means that we are talking about a real figure of 98%. As many in the health profession will tell you, anything over 90% represents a hospital that is effectively full in terms of intermediate care. Source: Daithí McKay MLA

It has been suggested by the Trust that measures will be put in place to ensure those who have availed of the Multiple Sclerosis respite care in Dalriada will be given an alternative care package – care homes and direct payments to enable families to avail of ‘in-home’ respite care. In the first instance, directing those who suffer from MS to a care home to avail of respite care is neither an economically positive, sustainable nor suitable alternative to the care package currently offered by the facility and staff at Dalriada. The care package offered by the facility at Dalriada is the only type offered by any of the Trusts; it is unrivalled and heavily supported by local residents and groups. It has been publicly stated by you, Minister, that this facility has been under-used. I ask of you, was it promoted and published by your Department? Again I would request information to substantiate your claims. Evidence would suggest that there was no strategic plan put in place by any Trust to refer any MS patients to this facility. I ask of you and your Department to provide clarification on this issue. 

With regards to the second point - offering MS patients the opportunity of availing of respite care in their own homes - this would appear to me as being a somewhat perverse and fundamentally flawed ideology. What kind of respite will the patient or family get and at what additional cost to a Trust which is supposedly ‘temporally’ closing this facility as a cost saving measure?! Again, I would request a full and detailed cost comparison between the current model of care provision provided by Dalriada and what you, and your Department, have envisaged as an alternative.

In my limited knowledge of this particular type of care, I would believe that both carer and patients need time to recuperate. How will this be achieved if both patient and carer are still resident in the same property with the additional burden of a ‘carer’? And, with no disrespect, I use the term ‘carer’ very loosely in this instance.

If, as you and the Trust have publicly stated, this closure is only ‘temporary’, what measures and legal assurances have been put in place to redeploy the staff back to Dalriada?

If this closure is on a ‘temporary’ basis, I ask you, the current Health Minister, what are the associated costs involved in ‘mothballing’ and reopening this facility? To quote you at Assembly Questions ‘we will turn off the lights’ - what are the direct savings anticipated by these measures? I respectfully request a detailed breakdown on the current fixed running costs of this building.

As someone who has just had laid his father to rest, who received nothing but the highest standard of care and attention from all levels of staff, both in the Causeway and in Craigavon, I am somewhat disgusted, dismayed and saddened by the fact that my father was unable to see out his last days in a hospital which is dear to our hearts, due to the restriction imposed by the Trust on admissions to Dalriada. My father helped build the hospital; my mother worked in it for 30 years; and many family members and friends have received unrivalled care, compassion and attention in their final moments in a Hospital which is easily accessible to those who reside in the District of Moyle, and you as the current Health Minister are willing to sanction its early demise.

I ask of you Minster, to consider all the facts and figures, the sustained public opposition to this proposed ‘temporary’ closure and the hurt and pain that this is causing to a very exposed rural community.

Although this has been portrayed as a ‘temporary’ closure, as a community we believe that this is nothing more than a forerunner to the permanent closure of Dalriada. I ask of you Minister and your Department, has your Department put in place measures to undertake an EQIA, substantive and meaningful public consultation, rural proofing and cost benefit analysis? If so, I would be grateful if you could forward any relevant information.

On Behalf of Ballycastle Community Group

Paul Kerrigan BEM

Monday, 17 November 2014

#SaveThe Dal goes to Stormont - Monday, November 17

UPDATED - December 19

Cross-community and cross-party support

BBC report - December 19: "A public consultation on the temporary closure of services at Dalriada Hospital, County Antrim, has been halted due to a court challenge. ..

Earlier this month, a High Court judge ruled that the hospital must continue to accept new patients until the judicial review is heard in full.

It resulted in a temporary reprieve for Dalriada's patients and for the [cross-community and cross-party] Save The Dalriada campaign group (Save the Dal)."

[click images to enlarge]

Early arrivals for the protest

Minister Wells in conversation with Cllr Cunningham, Moyle DC chair

The Minister speaks

The great show of cross-community and cross-party co-operation on the steps of Stormont contrasted sharply and sadly with the bickering inside the Assembly's hallowed portals. Those who need to avail of our health and social services deserve better from our politicians and other public servants and our media ought to shed much more light on the processes of our multi-layered governance*.

* Just how many layers exist between the Minister and the Dal? The following would appear to be the chief layers: The Minister > DHSSPS Permanent Secretary > DHSSPS Departmental Board > Health and Social Care Board > Northern Local Commissioning Group > Northern Health and Social Care Trust > The Dal. According to HM Treasury best practice the Minister should chair the Departmental Board but in the Northern Ireland Assembly the ministers don't even participate in these board meetings. Those who are not around the table when key decisions are being taken may not be in full possession of the facts. This lack of joined-up governance could mean that different stories are being told to different people in this elongated governance process and that decisions are not being adequately subjected to a public interest test.

On November 28, the Minister announced an in-house review of administration to be carried out by the Permanent Secretary whereas much greater independence is required so that more of the departmental budget gets to key front-line and supporting services.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

#SaveTheDal - Dalriada Hospital, Ballycastle, Cuts - Action and Reaction 2

[click images to enlarge]

One of a series of meetings to protest against the hospital's 'temporary' closure
The meeting in Moyle Council offices attracted about 700 people

"I want to provide [someone suffering from Multiple Sclerosis] with a reassurance that we will continue to provide him with a service at least as good as the service he's receiving now. I'm making no promises that it will open, that it has a long-term future, but we will consult, we will give the public an opportunity to have their say on the long term future." .. Dr Tony Stevens, Trust Chief Executive in a recent BBC interview

The public are more likely to pay heed to actions than to promises.

A visit to Monday's Health Budget debate on Monday, November 17, is being organised through the 'Save The Dal' Facebook page and those travelling hope to be able to hand over signed petitions to the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Jim Wells.

The workings of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust are new to me. It's an arms-length body [ALB] and it's my understanding that its Board has 11 full time professionals and 8 part-time lay members. None of the lay members, as far as I can see, live in the North Antrim area so their personal experience of the hospital's facilities may be somewhat limited. This snippet from the Trust's management statement [pdf file] may be of interest:

I can find no detailed implementation plan for the proposed 'temporary' closure nor can I, for example, find Trust promotion of the respite facilities on offer at its regional MS centre, facilities that are so much appreciated by users.

And there's more:

Meetings of the Board take place once a month.  These meetings are held in public and are normally on the fourth Thursday of each month, at various locations throughout the Trust.

Trust Board agendas and papers are available prior to the meetings. Following their approval at the next meeting, the minutes of the previous meeting will be available."

There's not to be a Board meeting in November; the next one is on December 2 - after the axe is due to fall. Here's the proposed change to Standing Orders that I found in the preparation papers for the October 2014 meeting:

Why aren't the agendas and papers put on-line prior to the Board meetings?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

1894 - Abuse of Tea-drinking

"Porridge and milk goes down like silk" .. an old saying

"Tea and bread ... "

MR. M'CARTAN (Down, S.) I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with reference to the Special Report of the Inspectors of Lunatics in Ireland, whether he is aware that in several of the Reports supplied by the Resident Medical Superintendents of asylums the use of inferior tea is mentioned as one of the sources of the causation of insanity; whether his attention has been called to the Report from No. 16 district, in which it is stated that the tea used is simply a decoction of tannin; whether any steps can be taken to protect the public from such an injurious article; and whether it would be convenient to give a list of the contract prices for tea supplied to the different district asylums in Ireland for the years 1893 and 1894?

MR. J. MORLEY I am aware of the statements referred to in the first and second paragraphs, though I may add that many of the Resident Medical Superintendents attribute the deleterious influence of tea, not to its quality, but to the method of preparation adopted. With regard to the second paragraph, the purchaser of adulterated tea may, at his own expense, proceed summarily against the seller for the penalty prescribed by the Adulteration of Food Act, or the prosecution may be brought under the direction of the Local Authority. I believe, however, that very little adulterated tea is sold in Ireland, and that as a rule the poorer classes purchase teas which are comparatively high priced but strong. Regarding the concluding paragraph, the information referred to can, if desired, be obtained, but it will take some time to collect it.

#SaveTheDal - Letter to the Minister


Copy of letter from local GPs to Health Minister:

Mr Jim Wells 
The Minister
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Information Office
C5.20 Castle Buildings
Stormont Buildings

Dear Mr Wells,

As you are aware Dr Tony Stevens, Chief Executive of NHSCT announced on Thursday 30th November 2014, the “temporary” closure of Dalriada Hospital in Ballycastle in its entirety at the end of November 2014.

Dalriada Hospital has provided outstanding medical care to the people of Ballycastle and the surrounding areas for decades.

This decision to close Dalriada hospital betrays the substance of Transforming Your Care which promotes intermediate care, with medical care being provided to patients either in their own homes or in intermediate care units as close as possible to their homes.

As GPs who work in Dalriada Hospital we wish to voice our grave concerns about the proposed closure of Dalriada Hospital. Although described as a “temporary” closure, Dr Tony Stevens CEO was unable to give any assurance that this would be the case, merely advising that there would be consultation about the provision of intermediate care throughout the Northern Trust area after the end of this financial year. He also stated that as this was “temporary” he was under no obligation to carry out any consultation.

The hospital encompasses 20 intermediate care beds and 12 regional Multiple sclerosis respite beds. Not only do we the GPs accept patients on a step-down basis from the acute hospital setting (e.g. for rehabilitation following orthopaedic surgery for fractured hips) we also provide a step-up service.

The step-up service allows us to directly admit a patient from home, including Rathlin islanders to Dalriada Hospital who would otherwise require attendance at A+E and admission into an acute hospital bed. As you are aware the cost of a bed day in Dalriada Hospital is a fraction of the cost of a bed day in the acute hospital setting such as Causeway or Antrim Area Hospital.

The doctors also accept and provide medical cover for patients who have been assessed in A+E or admitted to the medical assessment unit and require further short-term clinical care and rehabilitation with the assistance of the multidisciplinary team.

Unfortunately the number of patients requiring complex palliative care treatment has escalated in the past years and Dalriada hospital has highly skilled clinical staff members who are fully dedicated and competent to provide this essential service to patients who otherwise their care could only be provided in the acute hospital setting.

Dalriada hospital also provides a regional respite service for patients with Multiple Sclerosis who have complex medical and nursing needs. During their respite stay the service users avail.

The many services on site including dentistry, podiatry, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. This prevents fragmented care at home. Sadly many of these patients are young. A nursing home environment would be totally unsuitable to their needs. This has been continually voiced by the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The clinical care provided by the specialist nurses in Dalriada Hospital provides not only for the physical complexities, but also the psychological and social needs of the sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis and their families. This is unique and has been emphasised by the service users and reiterated in the media.

The disbandment of the hospital and these specialist skilled staff will have enormous clinical impact on the provision of acute hospital care and would appear to make no economic sense.

As GPs we are fearful of the impact this proposed major cutback in local healthcare provision will have on the patients in our practices populations. North Antrim and Rathlin Island have become popular retirement areas and hence we have a large proportion of frail elderly patients. In the winter months particularly, many of these patients unfortunately succumb to respiratory infections and fractures due to falls. The only option for these patients will be to attend A+E with long trolley waits and prolonged stay in acute hospital beds. These patients have been treated and have had rehabilitation (including after orthopaedic surgery) up to the present time in Dalriada hospital.

The Northern Trust representatives have argued that they have too many intermediate care beds. Unfortunately they have been disingenuous in their description of intermediate care beds. At present the only intermediate care facilities in the NHSCT area which are staffed by trained nurses are:
• Dalriada Hospital with 20 intermediate care beds. 
• Robinson Hospital in Ballymoney with 21 intermediate care beds 
• Inver in Larne with 16 intermediate care beds 
• Mid Ulster hospital in Magherafelt which has 3 assessment beds.

All the other units which the trust has called intermediate care beds are staffed by care assistants with no trained nurses. Patients can only be admitted to these care assistant staffed units if;
• they can be cared for with the assistance of one person, 
• if they do not have dementia and 
• If they do not have medical complications requiring skilled nursing care.

These care assistant staffed units are in Ballymoney, Ballymena, Antrim, Larne, Whiteabbey and Cookstown. None of these are within easy access of Ballycastle and the Glens.

1. If this proposed closure is enforced what is going to happen to the patients in this area of North Antrim and Rathlin Island?
2. Where are our patients with complex palliative care needs going to be admitted?
3. Can you give assurances that our frail elderly patients will not spend prolonged undignified days on A+E trolleys?
4. Where will the clients with Multiple Sclerosis avail of respite care?

The haste with which this announcement was made has caused enormous anxiety to the people of Ballycastle, Rathlin Island and the Glens. Unfortunately without the answers to the questions we pose we have been unable to allay these fears and anxieties. We would invite you to reply urgently to our questions so that we can assure our patients of a safe and high standard of medical provision.

We would also invite you to come to Dalriada hospital to see for yourself the excellent facilities which it provides, a service which actually saves the Health service money. You will be assured of a very warm welcome.
Yours sincerely,
Dr Mary McLister
Dr Martin O’Kane
Dr Bernie Hegarty
Dr Fergal Hasson
Dr Farah Nawaz
Dr Adrian Sterne
Dr Ian Hadden
Dr Stephen McDonnell
In support of: Dr Dermot Grant, Dr John McSparran and Dr Gillian Elder, Glens of Antrim Medical Centre
Mr Tony Stevens Chief Executive
Cllr Donal Cunningham
Cllr Joan Baird
Cllr Cara McShane
Ian Paisley MP
Robin Swann MLA
Jim Allister MLA
Daithi McKay MLA
Mervyn Storey MLA
Northern Local Commissioning Group

Public meeting to support campaign to keep Dalriada Hospital open arranged for Tuesday 18 November at 7pm in Dunluce School, Bushmills.

Dalriada Hospital, Ballycastle, Cuts - Action and Reaction

Coleraine Times slideshow of Public Meeting [Photos by Kevin McAuley; Slideshow by Una Culkin]

UTV coverage of white-line protest

Ministerial office email address for submission of views: private.office@dhsspsni.gov.uk 

Added November 10

Call for judicial review over Dalriada [UTV]

"Philomena McKay has instructed her lawyers to seek a judicial review following the temporary closure of Dalriada Hospital in Ballycastle, Co Antrim.

She said the application is being taken on the basis that the Northern Trust "failed to carry out adequate consultation with patients and staff before the decision was taken".

Ms McKay, who said she relies on the respite centre, added that while officials maintain that the closure is temporary, many of those who use it are concerned it will become permanent."

Written answers to questions 25 February 2011:

"Regional MS Respite Centre at Dalriada Hospital, Ballycastle

Mr M Storey asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to outline his Department's plans for the continued provision of Multiple Sclerosis services at the Regional MS Respite Centre at Dalriada Hospital, Ballycastle.
(AQW 3590/11)
Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety: The Northern Health and Social Care Trust is committed to sustaining respite care and has no plans to change services at Dalriada Hospital in North Antrim, for Multiple Sclerosis respite or for other services. The Trust has sought initial views from existing MS respite service users on future service provision, and any plans for changes in service provisions will follow discussions with those who use services."

Did such discussions with users take place prior to the 'temporary' closure announcement?

Ballycastle Chronicle: Route Presbytery behind Dalriada

Thursday, 30 October 2014

#SaveTheDal - Dalriada Hospital, Ballycastle, Cuts - Action and Reaction

Patricia Gordon, Director of the MS Society in NI, said she was "deeply concerned".

"There are more than 4000 people living with MS in Northern Ireland - one of the highest rates in the world - and yet MS services have been dramatically reduced in recent months causing serious distress for local families," she added.

"Regular, appropriate breaks, are crucial for maintaining the wellbeing of carers and people with MS. Inadequate respite provision can lead to declining health, increasing pressure on carers and unnecessary and costly hospital admissions.

"Rumours have been circulating for years about the future of the MS Regional Respite Unit in Dalriada Hospital, Ballycastle, and this announcement is a devastating blow for people who rely on this service. "

[click to sign]

Added November 3

Assembly Debate - Scroll down to Question for Urgent Oral Answer - Click + symbol to expand Multiple Sclerosis Respite Unit: Dalriada Hospital, Ballycastle

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Bushmills 'Bush Telegraph'

This 12-page quarterly newsletter was initiated by the Bushmills Village Forum and sponsorship by the Community Relations Council will enable it to continue for at least another year.

Giants Causeway in Britain from Above

Image details
Giants Causeway, Aird, Moyle, Northern Ireland, 1952. 
Oblique aerial photograph taken facing South/East.

Britain from Above presents the unique Aerofilms collection of aerial photographs from 1919-1953. Register to zoom into these amazing pictures, identify unlocated images, and share memories.

"What is the site all about?

We invite you to take part in helping us identify and provide information about old aerial photographs of Britain. Simply register, search for images, and contribute information. You can add to the factual summary, add keywords, comments, photos and more (see how to contribute below).

There is also a social component to the site. When you register, a profile will be created for you. We encourage you to fill in this profile further and take a look at the profiles of other participants. In the menu you can also see that there is a "groups" section. Feel free to join groups that have already been started or create your own group. Groups allow members to discuss the Aerofilms images in the context of the group's theme."

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Ulster Orchestra Petition

The Ulster Orchestra was formed in 1966 and is the only full time Professional Symphony Orchestra in Northern Ireland. 

Since March 2011 the Orchestra's Arts Council and BBC grants have been cut by 28 percent and the forecast for March 2015 will show a deficit of £400k that together with the in-year cut of 4 percent from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland will wipe out their reserves. Hence, by December there will be no option but to declare that the Orchestra is no longer viable and to announce its closure. 

For the last 48 years, and through the very worst of the " Troubles", the Orchestra has provided music of the very highest quality to the whole of the community, often playing under very difficult circumstances. Despite bomb scares, violence and civilian unrest, they never cancelled a concert and travelled all over the province to bring live music to rural communities who would not have had the opportunity to hear it otherwise. They are quite simply the lynch-pin of music in Northern Ireland. 

As well as regular classical concerts, their work in music education is well known with smaller groups and indeed the whole orchestra visiting schools, often in deprived areas, to give children the chance to see how music is made. The list of their engagements is too long to mention here, but their involvement in every aspect of the cultural life in Northern Ireland is well documented, including Derry/Londonderry City of Culture, Proms in the Park, Northern Ireland Opera, Lucianno Pavarotti at Stormont, the Belfast Festival at Queens, the Messiah and BBC Recordings, not to mention their own season of concerts throughout the year. What a shame if the people of Northern Ireland could no longer enjoy any of these events!

Pianist, composer and conductor Barry Douglas

Mr Douglas said: "I am saddened and concerned that the Ulster Orchestra, which makes such an important contribution to the cultural life of Northern Ireland and beyond, and with which I have played on many occasions, should currently be facing such difficulties.

"I wish the Ulster Orchestra well at this time and trust that its current challenges might soon be positively resolved."

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

HM Coastguard - Watches Below Risk Assessed Level From January 2014

Updated October 21 and 22 and 23

"The rash concept of radical cost cutting to ‘modernise’ the United Kingdom coastguard service and its clumsy introduction has led to the devastation of the service." .. For Argyll and the Isles, October 23, 2014

Here are some snippets from Caroline Wheeler's recent article "EXCLUSIVE: Danger at sea as coastguard numbers fall":

Shock new figures show that during the busy summer season Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCC) were understaffed by up to 97 per cent.

Aberdeen was the worst hit, with 97 per cent of shifts staffed at unsafe levels last month and in July, followed by Dover where 91.9 per cent of shifts fell below the required level in August.

Inexperienced staff are being recruited to fill large numbers of vacancies because experienced coastguard officers have been leaving the MCA in their droves since the Coalition announced a modernisation drive in 2010.

"Did you know that 50% of the public did not know 
that you call 999 and ask for the Coastguard?"
"The new national network is scheduled to be 
fully operational by the end of 2015."

For Argyll and the Isles had looked at these failures back in January 2014. Here are some snippets:

Grasp the scale of a single sea area from the south end of the Mull of Galloway northwards, including the Irish coast from and including Carlingford Lough on the east coast, round to Lough Foyle on the north – and stretching north to Cape Wrath to include the Inner and Outer Hebridean Isles and the Western Isles. The Caledonian Canal, from the top of Loch Linnhe, inland to Fort Augustus, also falls within this area.

You’re effectively looking at the entire west coast and islands of Scotland; and the entire coast and islands of Northern Ireland.

Responsibility for this immense and complex sea area is shared by two Coastguard stations – Belfast in its south east and Stornoway on its north west. ..

In the first three months of 2012, Befast coastguard returned an impressive zero failure rate for shift manning. Only Liverpool [to close] and Milford Haven returned so sparkling a performance in safe shift manning over that period.

Then the reality of the consequences of the introduction of the modernisation programme began to percolate and shift manning figures went into decline, as the staffing impacts outlined above began to manifest themselves. Belfast went from zero straight to a 41.7% failure rate in April 2012, with an average of 37.19% failure in the nine months from April to December 2012. ..

Belfast’s average failure rate for 2013 of 56.94% was the highest of all of the UK MRCCs. ..

For the Scottish west coast as a whole, it has to be noted that in July 2013, Belfast and Stornoway MRCCs, as ‘paired’ stations, could not between them make up a single station manned to the minimum agreed safety level.  In that month, Belfast’s failure rate was 80.6% and Stornoway’s 21%, making a combined total failure rate of 101.6%. The total sea area for which they are responsible is vast, with a spectrum of serious risks and a particularly valuable marine environment to protect. We got away with it last year, but what if we hadn't? ..

Good news from the MCA is that they have now achieved a full staffing complement at Belfast, so we would now expect the situation there to start to stabilise.

Sadly, the 2014 figures indicate that Belfast still faces staffing problems.

[NALIL blog - 27 January 2013]

CoastguardSOS - Gambling with Public Safety

The CoastguardSOS link provides data for 2013, including the following table:

The top table on this blog was taken from a search of Whatdotheyknow using 'maritime coastguard agency'. The 129 requests can be refined using a search for 'mrcc' or 'staffing'. A successful request from a Mr Jameson dated 11 January 2014 contains no MCA data. An earlier request from Mr Jameson on 12 December 2013 also contains no MCA data. Both requests relate to manning levels but the detail is probably similar to that contained in the CoastguardSOS link above for 2013.

Added October 25

Those with concerns about current MRCC manning levels can and probably should raise this and any other issues with their elected representatives. The Transport Select Committee wasn't impressed with the Government's approach to reorganisation back in 2011; it was unhappy with manning levels and other matters in October 2013; perhaps it should now carry out a further review. Contact details.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Coleraine Post-primary Provision - Heir of Uncertainty

Saturday, October 18

Tomorrow some Primary 7 pupils and their parents in the Coleraine catchment area will be taking part in a familiarisation process in advance of the examinations that will impact on their choice of post-primary school for the school year beginning September 2015.

I'm indebted to the Coleraine Times [October 1, 2014] for this press release from the managements of Coleraine Academical Institution, Coleraine College and Coleraine High School:

On Monday, in a joint statement, the three Coleraine schools said: "The Minister's announcement on the future of the Voluntary Grammar and Controlled Post Primary sectors signals the start of an exciting new chapter for education provision in the Coleraine area and one which will provide suitable and sustainable educational pathways for all post-primary pupils in the region.

"We are delighted that the Minister has approved these proposals which had positive support from within the community. While we recognise change of this nature is challenging, we believe this plan presents the best opportunity to deliver a long-term, viable and sustainable Post Primary education system in the Coleraine area".

What a delightful paean of praise. Should parents accept these sentiments at face value? As parents and teachers have been kept so much in the dark it's most unlikely that the community at large will be better informed.

Education minister on right

Task - 15 December 2011

The Minister is commissioning the Education and Library Boards, working in close conjunction with CCMS and engaging extensively with other school sectors, to develop collective strategic plans on an area basis.

"I wanted the planning authorities to set aside individual, sectoral or institutions' needs and focus on how, as a society, we could best provide for the needs of all children and young people in an area." .. Minister, February 26, 2013

'All post-primary pupils in the region'? Unsurprisingly some sectors went and were allowed to go their own way and the North Eastern Education and Library Board was left to cobble together an arrangement for the three schools already mentioned [CAI, CC and CHS]. Those who were paying some attention to the small print noted that in the early consultation phase the 414 responses from CHS parents were only initially counted as one and the responses from the opted-out integrated sector dominated the analysis. The 414 responses were later sort of slipped into the mix - 47 became 447 - but the calculations were left unchanged. Should this not have been picked up and resolved by NEELB members?

The following observation in the same Coleraine Times article knocks some of the shine off the glowing review at the top of the blog:

The schools will now begin the significant work of preparing for the implementation of the decision, a process which will focus on the needs of current pupils in the schools as well as those who will attend them in future years.

In other words, the management of the three schools would appear to have signed off on an almost empty page rather than 'an exciting new chapter'. Have they been fobbed off with the proverbial pig-in-a-poke?

The Ministerial statement issued on Friday, September 24, 2014 appears to have been written by Department officials [pdf file] and sent to the Minister the previous Monday. This statement betrays a certain nervousness:

Presentational/Contentious Issues: It is likely that your decision will attract media coverage.

So why might officials be worried? Could it be to do with the information that has been withheld?

Proposal [i] Amalgamation – facilitated by closure of Coleraine AI and Coleraine HS and the establishment of a new school. ... The DP proposes the enrolment at the new VGS [on the CAI site] to be 1060 by the year 2020.

In theory, the combined Year 8 intake in September 2015 could be slashed from 240 to 150 but, in practice, it's unlikely that the current facilities at CAI could be upgraded to accommodate the girls in such a narrow time-frame; the statement coyly refers to 'a reduction in the numbers'.

Will there be a new build, even a new principal? The Minister's recent response to Claire Sugden MLA appears to offer little more than a fairly basic refurbishment:

To ask the Minister of Education what commitment to funding can he make for a new build following his acceptance of proposals to merge Coleraine High School and Coleraine Academical Institution, whilst increasing enrolment at Coleraine College.

- Hide Answer

On 24 September 2014 I approved the Development Proposals published on 7 May 2014 by North Eastern Education & Library Board (NEELB), to facilitate the amalgamation of Coleraine High School and Coleraine Academical Institution, whilst increasing enrolment at Coleraine College to 900 pupils with effect from 1 September 2015 or as soon as possible thereafter.

My Department will fund the works necessary to allow the amalgamation of Coleraine High School and Coleraine Academical Institution on one site and will give consideration, in conjunction with the school authorities, to the works necessary to facilitate the amalgamation.

However any proposal for a new build for the amalgamated school would be considered along with other projects put forward in advance of any future announcement being made.

I can advise that planning of a programme of minor works for Coleraine Academical Institution is currently underway. Details are as follows: [list]

There's no detail of the major works required or estimate of likely cost.

The DP proposes the enrolment at Coleraine College is increased from an approved enrolment of 600 to 900 with effect from 1 September 2015 or as soon as possible thereafter. The NEELB have also confirmed that the increase at Coleraine College will be on a phased basis, rebalancing the decreased enrolment at the new VGS. The 2013/14 actual enrolment was 244 pupils, significantly less than the approved enrolment.

Will the proposed movement of pupils from fairly successful schools to a school that has struggled whilst under the oversight of the NEELB bolster 'parental confidence in the school’s ability to deliver high quality education' - or will parents look to other post-primary schools to educate their children?