2 June 2018

Charles Kennedy: Three Years On

Sometimes it is hard to believe how fast time passes, however with the passing of Charles Kennedy, time seems to have past faster then ever. I personally cannot believe it is now three years that we lost him.

That morning, I was awoken by my mobile phone ringing. The number was withheld, and I was tempted to ignore it. However, as someone was calling at 6.15 in the morning, I felt it must be important. I tried to shake the sleepiness from my voice as I answered. It was my local BBC Radio station. They asked it I could be interviewed on air in 15 minutes about the news that broken overnight. I explained that they had woken me up and that I had not seen any news as yet that morning. The journalist on the phone replied saying that they could delay the interview until after the 7 o’clock news, but would phone me back in 15 minutes once I had looked at the news. 

My heart sank as I read the headline on the BBC News app, and tears started to form in my eyes. For me, Charles was the leader when I joined the party. It was that speech at the Stop the War Rally that cemented my membership as a Liberal Democrat after many years of support after studying politics at A Level and before. The phone rang again, and I rubbed away the tears that were still in the corner of my ear. I agree to do the interview; however, I do not remember much about it at all as I was still in shock.

Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet Charles and speak to him, but whenever he spoke at conference or on the TV, you felt he was talking to you not at you. He had that way of communicating that directly tapped into the individual, even when there was a crowd of thousands. The human touch was something that set him aside from some of the other leaders at the time. Charles did not need to try to appear ‘human’, he just was. This quote from a 2005 Guardian Interview sums it up: “Actually, I think it’s quite sensible not to take yourself too seriously. The vast majority of people think there’s a hell of a lot more to life than just politics. And you’ve got to bear that in mind – because you’re actually trying to represent them.”

His presence was sorely missed in the European Referendum debate a year later. Charles was a passionate European, however he was not afraid to stand up and point out areas that needed reform. With Cameron and Osbourne using the so-called ‘Project Fear’ and a series of figures, Charles’ commitment and passion, along with his human-touch might have been the difference. Unfortunately, we can never know. I am sure he would be as frustrated with the decision as the rest of the Liberal Democrats, and would have continued to fight on for the European cause. 

Charles – your wit, wisdom and warmth are missed by those who knew you, and many like myself who did not.

To finish, I will leave you with what I feel is my favourite Charles Kennedy quote which he said about the then leader of the Lib Dems in 1998, which to me characterises Charles sense of humour which came across:
“Paddy Ashdown is the only party leader who’s a trained killer. Although, to be fair, Mrs Thatcher was self-taught.”

25 May 2018

Affairs of my Heart

Someone said writing down your feelings and thoughts can help - so here we are - one month on.

I never thought that a month ago today, my life would change in the way it did. It was completely out of the blue and unexpected. From a moment of celebration came a wake-up call that will live with me forever.

One of my closest friend’s hen party took place on Saturday 21st April. The warm spring weather was the perfect day for the celebrations, although maybe not to be in a kitchen in a cookery class baking gingerbread and icing a cake for the groom. This was followed by a lovely meal and a couple of cocktails in the evening sunshine. It was perfect way to enjoy the upcoming nuptials.

However, the next day was not so rosy. I felt achy and very tired. All my joints were sore, and I had back pain and a slight ache in my chest. I thought that because I had not had a drink at all since the New Year, I was feeling the affects of the cocktails more than normal. So, I proceeded to flush out the alcohol with as much water as possible. I also noticed that I had been bit by a couple of insects that night, and thought that they were reacting to the alcohol, so continued to flush out my system with water.

By the early hours of Monday, I was still feeling unwell and decided to phone 111 to ask some advice. They said I should go to A&E, so with dawn only just breaking, I was on my way to Lincoln County A&E in a taxi.

After some tests, I was just waiting for the results of an x-ray, but they were confident that I could go once they had seen the x-ray. However, things on the x-ray were not as they should be, and the consultant said they wanted to do a CT scan of my heart as they thought it was enlarged.

Mild panic set in for me. The CT was completed, and I awaited the results. The consultant called me back through, this time not to the room as before, but to the area where the cubicles were, past those and into Resus – more panic was setting in. I was told by the consultant that the was an issue with my heart and they had spoken to the specialist centre at Nottingham City Hospital, and that I was to be transferred there immediately and have an operation.  

At this point, my brain kind of shut down at taking anymore information in. From feeling fine a couple of days before to a small amount of discomfort, I was now looking at surgery.

The ambulance arrived, and after a very uncomfortable journey on the stretcher travelling between the hospitals, I was greeted by a full team at Nottingham City Hospital, who were in a sense ready to take me straight down to surgery if needed.

Luckily, my condition was very stable, so the consultant, Mr Ian Mitchell, was able to explain the situation to me. My aorta was enlarged and, in essence, was a balloon ready to burst. That could happen at any point, in 5 minutes or 5 years. Not having the surgery was not an option – but what type of replacement aortic valve they used was up for discussion. The pig valve meant I could live a normal life but have it replaced again in 8-12 years (and then again in another 8-12 years after that and so on) or go on blood thinning medication for my lifetime and take a mechanical valve.

I didn’t really fancy having to face another operation in another decade, so the mechanical valve sounded the best fit at my age. The downside apart from the medication was the mechanical valve ticks – so I am like the human version of the crocodile in Peter Pan!

The day of the operation came around – less than two days after I was admitted. After 6.5 hours in theatre, I was back in ICU and ready for recovery (or at least that what I have been told!).

Since that Wednesday back in April, I have been recovering from the operation that not only saved my life, but gave me a future too. There is a long road to recovery from the surgery that I had. It is not easy when the surgeon breaks your breastbone to open your chest – there is a lot of repairing to be done.
I know that I was absent from the local election count because of this, and that I am taking time off from my Lib Dem and my Parish Councillor commitments for a time until I am strong enough to return – but I will never stop being there when people need me. If I can help, I will do. If I cannot, I will find a colleague who can.
Thank you to my fantastic boss and colleagues for their support and also to all my family and friends, thank you for your amazing support too!

Without having the heart condition spotted at Lincoln, I do not know how long I would have been around. Sometimes the strangest things happen, this time for me it was love – the love that unites two people in wedlock. A hen-do might have just saved my life.

10 March 2015

The Importance of the NHS

The NHS has a very special place in my heart and the nation’s heart and rightly so. It is the envy of the world. But by no means is it perfect and there needs to be improvements in certain areas.

The nursing staff and the doctors do a tremendous job under difficult circumstances and with lots of pressure. We need to look at redirecting resources from middle management salaries towards extra front-line staff within the NHS to allow nursing staff to give the best care they can to every patient.

We also need to look at the Accident and Emergency system to ensure there is adequate service for patients to go to so they do not use A&E as their first point of call. By strengthening Out Of Hours availability, Walk-In centres and access to GPs we can help our stretched A&E services.

Mental Health also needs to be held in the same regard as physical health. Steps are already being taken to ensure that they are treated equally.

There also needs to be action taken to help those trusts who are struggling with huge PFI bills that are directing money away from use on treatments. We also need to end the ‘postcode lottery’ for treatments.

However, the one thing that needs to stay the same is the founding principle of the NHS – free at the point of delivery. 

Liberal Democrats have a clear guarantee that the NHS is excluded from the negotiations on TTIP and will not be affected. I will work with colleagues both at Westminster and in the EU to continue to ensure that this guarantee is protected. However, with an election looming, the outcome of the election is uncertain. Because there is no guarantee the Liberal Democrats will be part of the government after the election; a Conservative only government cannot be trusted with the NHS. For this reason, I will be signing the petition to protect the NHS in TTIP today.