22 October 2002


Jumping the queue

Old Grumpy noticed an interesting piece in last week's Mercury on the vexed question of NHS waiting lists.
The article dealt with a particular type of queue-hopping, an issue highlighted by local campaigner Malcolm Calver of Manorbier.
When your G P refers you to a specialist you effectively join two waiting lists.
The first, for your outpatients' appointment to see the consultant, and the second for hospital treatment if that is what the consultant decides is required.
As is well known, it is possible to avoid the waiting list by paying through the nose to go private.
What Mr Calver has spotted is that those who opt for a private consultation, thereby avoiding the outpatients' waiting list, and then choose to have their operation/treatment on the NHS can, for a relatively small outlay, achieve a significant reduction in the overall time taken to pass through the system, compared to someone who takes the pure NHS route.
In a letter to Mr Calver, the Pembrokeshire Health Group admit to this possibility.
They write that they "can envisage a situation in which people might use private outpatient appointments as a means of gaining access to treatment more quickly than if they were to use the NHS for both outpatient and inpatient waits".
However, they claim that nothing can be done because NHS Trusts don't have routine access to information that would enable them to ascertain the exact extent of this particular wheeze.
More likely is that they don't want to interfere with what is a nice little earner for the consultants.


Stating the obvious

As Old Grumpy has previously observed, some of our County Councillors are not the sharpest needles in the sewing box.
During my recent trawl though the authority's books, I came across evidence that the county council's Director of Finance has reached the same conclusion.
As part of the public audit of the authority's accounts, the council has provided the most up to date version of the regulations for claiming expenses.
So far as I can see, the regulations themselves haven't changed from the previous year, but in the front of the booklet, the Director has appended a section entitled "Danger Zones".
In essence, this is a warning to desist from all those abuses of the system that Old Grumpy has identified over the years.
Though, you really have to wonder if it is necessary to spell out, to supposedly sentient beings, that they shouldn't claim travelling expenses if they are given a lift to a meeting in another member's car, or that, if they represent the council on an outside body, they shouldn't claim travelling expenses from both that body and the council, or that they can't claim subsistence unless they are away from home for the periods specified in the regulations.
Perhaps, on balance, it is a good thing that the Chief Officers Management Board (COMB) runs the show.


Kept in the dark

The County Council is being somewhat less than co-operative during this year's audit.
In contrast with previous years, requests for documents are being met by claims that the information is commercially confidential or that to release it would be contrary to the Data Protection Act.
But more of that next week because even the information to which the public does have unfettered access is less than informative.
For instance, four years ago when I inspected the county council's books, I came across an invoice from "Stone Hall Hotel and Restaurant" in the sum of £789.80 in respect of the Chairman's end of term dinner.
From this detailed invoice, I was able to tell the readers that they had paid for 26 important personages to eat their fill of escargot, cuisses de grennuilles, filet de boeuf and agneau, all washed down with several bottles of Pouilly Fuisse and Aloxe Canton at £17.70 and £18.80 a bottle respectively.
I well remember writing what I, at least, thought was an amusing piece in the Mercury about this particularly expensive excursion on the gravy train.
It seems that not everyone shares my sense of humour because, the following year, most probably on the instructions of some high-up in County Hall, the bill read, simply, "Dinners for guests invited by Chairman £996.79" and the year after that "Civic dinner, £874.50".
Continuing this minimalist trend, this year's invoice says, "Function £939.75".
Old Grumpy finds this coyness utterly unacceptable.
After all, as we are paying for these freebies, we surely have a right to know what we are getting for our money.
And, as regular readers will know, our councillors have recently awarded themselves huge pay rises on the grounds that increased rewards will bring forth a better class of candidate.
What better way to encourage young, upwardly-mobile go-getters to offer themselves for election than to dangle the possibility of one day rubbing shoulders with the Lord Lieutenant in the county's premier dining halls and enjoying, free of charge, the best the chefs and vintners of France can produce.
And who could resist being driven home in the council's limo by a besuited flunky and having a quiet little chuckle as you see your former friends in Castle Square, queuing in the rain for a taxi, as you cruise smoothly by.


Putting on the style


Inspecting the County Council's accounts provides a unique insight into the infinite number of ways to waste public money.
Take, for example the £407 bill I came across from Ms Angela Gray of Cardiff for her services at the Narberth Food Festival.
Ms Gray is, according to the invoice, a "food stylist" who charges £325 a day to pass on the secrets of her art to stylistically challenged members of the cooking professions.
The invoice is silent as to the dishes produced by our style guru during her day-long demo, but they obviously didn't tickle her own palate because, I notice, she included a charge for "meals £25.00".
Old Grumpy has decided to climb aboard this gravy train and I will be writing to the County Council offering to pass on my expertise in creative expense claiming and p***-artistry.
Three hundred quid a day, plus as much red wine as I can drink, seems about right.


You couldn't make it up

Last Sunday morning I answered the phone expecting to hear the sweet tones of my four-year-old granddaughter.
Instead I got the voice of an excited mole with a tale of espionage in the Kremlin on Cleddau.
According to my informant, a concealed listening device had been uncovered in the members' room in County Hall.
I have no idea what he had been on the night before, but I am told this is a good time of year for gathering magic mushrooms.
In fact, I had heard this same story earlier in the week and had dismissed it as the product of the increasingly febrile County Council rumour mill.
But, I suppose, if it should turn out have some substance, it will give a whole new meaning to the phrase Buggin's turn.

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