"Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you," said the wisest of wise men. "The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon."

('The Alchemist' Paulo Coelho)

Thursday, November 16, 2017


For the past few weeks, I have been plagued by arthritis in my left knee. A couple of years ago, I had it in my right knee, although it did subside partly, I think, because I started taking Turmeric capsules. People may wonder about that, but all I can say is that it made an almost instantaneous difference, although when Keith tried it for his ankle, it didn't help at all.
So, fast forward to now and here I am hobbling around with a growing collection of knee supports and trying to keep it exercised as much as possible, because Elder Daughter tells me that 'knees love exercise.' I'm sure she's right, but my knee doesn't seem too grateful for it these days!

"I have a couple of bolts in the shed that you could use," said Keith helpfully, watching me strap said joint up in a knee brace.

"It's OK," I replied, "you keep those for your neck."

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Passing the buck

Dear Ms Aspin, 
Thank you for your further email of 26 September addressed to Vaughan Gething AM, Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport regarding your concerns about the services provided at Pen y Maes health centre in Wrexham.  I have been asked to reply.  
I am sorry that you were disappointed to receive a response from an official rather than direct from the Cabinet Secretary.  Welsh Government Ministers receive a large volume of correspondence and cannot always respond personally.  For this reason correspondents may from time to time receive a reply on the Cabinet Secretary’s behalf from his officials.  However, the Cabinet Secretary takes a close interest in all his correspondence. 
I note your further concerns.  It was explained in our previous response that the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board took over management of the practice in October 2016 and is continuing to explore potential options for the future provision of services.   
In Wales, the Cabinet Secretary has a role to set the strategic direction for health services and hold the NHS to account.  Health boards plan how services are delivered ‘on the ground’ and regularly review these services to ensure they meet the needs of their resident population.  Therefore, the health board will be the most appropriate organisation to contact to provide the specific answers to your enquiry. 
Yours sincerely 
Paul Haynes Government Business Team Health and Social Services Group  

In reply to the second and third emails I sent to Vaughan Gething, this dropped into my inbox yesterday. No more informative and equally 'helpful' as the last reply from him. Obviously, Mr Gething, who is, remember, the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport in the Welsh Assembly, is an extremely busy fellow and hasn't got time to reply in person to the likes of me. The fact that, being Secretary for Health, means that it is his job to be interested in what's going on in the Health scene throughout Wales, seems to have passed him by, and of course, as his constituency is in south Wales, he doesn't rely on us to vote him back in when the next election rolls around.
So, once again, in spite of the fact that I did inform him previously that I have already contacted BCUHB and a great many more bodies and people besides, the official line continues to be, 'Not interested, go and ask them.'
We have now gathered a fair amount of coverage of what is happening in our Health Board and it's all grist to our mill. For example:
  • In BUCHB and doubtless in other Welsh health boards too, directly managed GP practices  get £29 per patient more than GP managed practices.
  • Although the East Area team have assured us several times that they are 'committed to GP managed practices', they also told the recent Scrutiny meeting with the Council that they 'have no intention of putting Pen y Maes out to tender again in the near future'. 
  • They are NOT 'meeting the needs of the resident population', unless you count days with no GPs and a shortage of nurses as meeting our needs.
So the bottom line is that although one of our MPs has become involved and is asking questions, even though Welsh NHS is devolved so he does not have any obligation to do so, Mr Gething, who does have a responsibility (the clue is in your title, you know!), has decided not to bother.

But we're not going away. We're going to keep on keeping on!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Still doing battle

After two missives to Vaughn Gething, our Health Secretary, I received an off the peg reply from one of his minions who, like all the others, had perfected the art of saying nothing very comprehensively, so this afternoon, I sat down with Classic FM for inspiration and composed this:

Dear Mr Gething,
Thank you for the response to my letter, sent by a member of your team. It seems as if the organisation of your response network is geared to siphoning people off to other organisations who may or may not be able to help them. I'm afraid that in this case, this response is not helpful.

We have already contacted the CHC, BCUHB itself and the CEO, Mr Gary Doherty, to no avail. We are not being given anything helpful in regard to how the parlous situation at Pen y Maes health centre can be resolved and seem to be continually shooed away and told that 'it's OK folks, your concerns are unfounded/ we have it all in hand / we know what we are doing (delete as required).

Unfortunately, no-one seems able to tell us 
a) why salaried GPs do not seem to want to work for the East Area team of BCUHB
b) why this is not being invstigated
c) why Dr Sankey, erstwhile clinical lead, who was willing and eager to take on the practice as a GMS        with a full team of medical staff, was turned down
d) why BCUHB seem hell bent on directly managing our and other similarly placed practices           themselves, irrespective of whether it's the right solution or not
e) why the Board thinks it acceptable to pay considerable sums of money employing locums when item c) was available.

I’m sure you are aware that directly managed practices cost around a third more to run than GMS practices. Between April and August BCUHB overspent by three million pounds on just six directly managed practices, five of which are under the East Area team and of those, four  in Wrexham, Pen y Maes, Beechley and Hillcrest, as well as Ruabon. The first three have all lost their clinical leads due to resignation.

I was hoping that you, as Secretary for Health in Wales would also have an interest in this problem and given your position, could endeavour to obtain the answers to the above. I remain ever hopeful and would greatly appreciate an answer that deals specifically with the points I have raised here.

Sincerely, etc

Dreaming - and shouting

Often at night, I dream and the dreaming is, on occasion, accompanied by some shouting. Sometimes the sound of my shouting wakes me up but generally, it falls to Keith to wake me up and inform me that I was shouting. After that, I usually manage to get out of the dream cycle and go back to normal sleep, or what passes for normal for me anyway.

In the morning, I have a vague recollection of having been talking or shouting and if I don’t, Keith is more than happy to remind me, but he never remembers what I have said and in the bright light of morning, I have forgotten what was bothering me so much, but I do seem to spend a lot of my dream time arguing and fighting with people.

Last night, it appears that I shouted again, just one word, ‘Bastard!’ I’m quite sure this was not directed at Keith and actually, you’ll be relieved to hear, it’s not part of my regular vocabulary, but this morning I did have a vague recollection of being extremely angry and frustrated with someone.

Of course, it could be the effect of all this protesting.

Which is a shame as there is still plenty of that to do yet!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Protesting in the rain

Well, we gathered in the pouring rain and had a brief question and answer session before the BCUHB executive meeting, with the same answers to the same questions, but at least they have been made more aware of the depth of feeling and some of the media have covered our protest. 
What happens now? Who knows!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

More protesting?

This week seems to be one for protesting about what is or is not being done that should or should not be being done - if you follow my drift.
After a brief seguė into ringing the council to point out that, once again, the playing field has not been mown once since late spring and when are they going to do something about it, I went back to my Welsh class.

Remember this, about the reduction of choices available?
Well, now that the local FE college has responsibility for delivering Welsh courses locally, the cost has doubled and there are no concessions as there were with Prifysgol Bangor and there are fewer course venues available.

We have more or less finished our course started under Bangor but there was a problem on the horizon. It seemed that Coleg Cambria had won the contract knowing full well that they did not currently have a Uwch course, which should be where my group goes next. Fast forward to the present. As the courses are now developed nationally, it was decided that the new Uwch course would be trialled in south Wales this year, so yes, you've guessed it, no course for us!

Not that that deterred Coleg Cambria from taking our money under the guise of enrolling us on the Uwch course (Yes, that's right, the one that's not yet available).

Fortunately, our current tutor is a star and is 'getting round the problem', so he will be providing us with .... something, but I'm not allowed to say more!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


This is part of our protest against the Health Board here in North Wales, who are failing us day after day. On Thursday, I and I hope, many other patients, will be at Glyndwr University to register our protest at the Board's Executive meeting. Wish us luck!

Sunday, September 03, 2017


You may remember a post I did a while ago about delays in allowing GPs to work in Wales, which was of particular interest to us as our surgery had come under the control of Betsi Cadwalader University Health Board, and things were not going well.
I did get an answer to my query, basically saying that they have speeded up the process and anyway, that lot in NHS England are even slower when the movement is from Wales to England.
However, things have now moved on. A wonderful doctor took the place under her wing and developed a plan for keeping the health centre in business and even offering extra services. Unfortunately, this weekend we learned that because she was tired of hitting 'brick wall after brick wall' in her dealings with BCUHB and her efforts to get them to back her, she has now resigned and we are back in limbo, with a scary lack of, well anything really. 
So, time to hit the keyboard again and I have fired off an email to our local Welsh Assembly Member, with an additional one to Vaughan Gething, who is our Secretary for Health.
'Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more ...' to quote Henry fifth!


Dear Mr Skates,
You may remember Mark Drakeford in 2016 maintaining that we in North Wales were 'crying wolf' over the recruitment crisis of GPs. Unfortunately, the chickens have now come home to roost and for over a year now, we 9000 patients at Pen y Maes health centre, Gwersyllt, Wrexham, have been suffering day to day with a crisis situation. The staff who are there have been doing an amazing job under extremely difficult conditions, but there have been times when no doctors have been available and people have ended up in A&E at Wrexham Maelor in a far worse state than they would have been had they had timely access to a doctor. It isn't difficult to see that this puts even more pressure on an already overstretched service at the hospital and one wonders how soon before the first preventable death occurs.
To add insult to injury, it seems that an amazingly driven and committed doctor who has been working there, produced a viable and much needed plan for the future of the practice, but has now resigned as she has, to quote 'hit brick wall after brick wall' when dealing with BCUHB. Given that BCUHB is still in special measures, I am at a complete loss to understand how the Board can be allowed to be obstructive in a situation like this. We don't even have the option of transferring to other practices, even if we wanted to, as there are already two in the area about to be taken under BCUHB control and others have closed their lists as they are unable to take on any more patients, much less 9000 of us. I am particularly concerned about hints that staff do not want to work for BCUHB east area, which would seem to suggest that, rather than an out and out shortage of GPs, there is a shortage of GPs willing to work here. To quote 'Hamlet' 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark' (for Denmark, substitute BCUHB).
As AM for our area, I and the rest of Pen y Maes's patients, would urge you to look into this matter as soon as possible. The uncertainty and lack of regular medical provision is extremely concerning and is a worry that those who are already suffering from health problems can well do without.

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible and I shall also be contacting Vaughan Gething in his capacity of Cabinet Secretary for Health.
Jenny Aspin

 In the meantime, I think we might be going to have to chain ourselves to railings somewhere ...

Friday, September 01, 2017


This was Paddy ten years ago when we got him from a rescue centre. He was estimated by their vet to be between seven and nine years old, which means he has now reached the grand old age of between seventeen and nineteen. In equivalent human years that's a lot, well beyond what one would expect for a dog, especially one who hadn't been treated particularly well before we got him. We were told that he had suffered from colitis and left untreated and although he was now better, we should always be careful with his diet. 
For the first few years, Paddy was very wary of other dogs and went berserk if faced with a cat, so it took a long time before I could trust him off lead. He was also terrified of fireworks, so November 5th was always a barrel of laughs! Ironically, these problems have disappeared in recent years as his sight has deteriorated and he has become almost deaf.
He welcomed first Jake and then Toby into his life and seemed to enjoy their company, although now his energy levels are well below Toby's, so I generally walk them separately, though he's still not too old to enjoy the odd 'stand off' with Toby.
But over the last few months, he has been displaying signs of dementia and often seems to be confused. Rather like elderly people at the end of their lives, his world is contracting and he is frequently restless during the night, as if he has forgotten the routine of daytime and night time. He doesn't seem to be unhappy or distressed, but then animals are so much better than we are at accepting what life deals them and living in the moment.  However, we are wondering how much longer we will have him with us.
Whatever the answer to that question, we will make the most of the time we have left together and treasure the memories.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dysgu Cymraeg - eto

I have now been learning Welsh for six years. No, I can't believe it either! Unfortunately, I still wouldn't consider myself capable of stringing a sentence together with any degree of ease, probably due to various reasons, some my fault, others beyond my control. So let's see:
Reasons that are my fault

  • I have been very lax in going to Sesiwnau Siarad Cymraeg (chat sessions) over the past two years. I neglected them when Dad was ill and never picked them up again since he died.
  • I have various apps for practice of vocabulary etc but somehow, the lure of Facebook, Twitter or Ancestry are often too strong to resist and I am one who can resist anything except temptation.
  • I am one of those anoraks who actually like learning a language the traditional way, so I am more interested in the grammar, usage and history of the language than actually speaking it.
Reasons beyond my control

  • Keith doesn't speak Welsh and even when I threaten to trade him in for a Welsh-speaking model, refuses  even to entertain the notion. (Of course, he knows I wouldn't really!)
  • I have no work colleagues, being retired, and no neighbours or friends who speak Welsh.
  • The dogs don't speak Welsh.
  • People in the area generally don't speak Welsh, so there's no opportunity to pass the time of day in shops etc.
AND - and this is the big one,

On the few occasions when I have made myself take advantage of an occasion when I could have a go, it has not gone well. There are Welsh speakers out there who don't want to speak Welsh to a learner or even a non-Welsh person. 
However, I do accept that I have had bad luck in these situations, as most of my fellow learners have had good experiences of very helpful and supportive Welsh speakers, but it has meant that I am wary of even trying now.

Still, not to be deterred, I am signing up for the coming academic year, or at least trying to. The local college, now the only provider of Welsh for Adults (and that's a whole other story!), has a website with a course finder - which doesn't seem to work. Having been round the houses twice, I have now given up for today. 
Anybody know of a good Swedish course?


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