Monday, January 17, 2011

Foetal Alcohol Disorder - Part Two

Well, pleased as I am that the newspapers have picked up on the dangers of drinking while pregnant, there are some elements of the article in the Examiner, and the Editorial, which need some correction.

Firstly, the article states that one in nine children are born with FAD. Fortunately it is not that bad. It is actually 1 in 100 in the UK (and Canada) and it may be the same here, or perhaps a little worse, if our extra consumption of drink is taken into account.

There are about 900 births here each year, so that equates to about nine children each year who may be affected. Not one in nine as stated.

Secondly, Foetal Alcohol Disorder is NOT any form of ADHD. It is a seperate syndrome caused by the physical effects of alcohol on the foetus while in the womb.

The only connection is that it may be possible that children with FAD are being presumed to have ADHD if a proper diagnosis of the FAD condition has not been made. This is part of the work I am asking Health to undertake - is FAD not being diagnosed on occasions, or does it sometimes get lumped in with ADHD? Are the behaviour problems of these children being masked and labelled as ADHD?

Finally the Examiner editorial. This is in no way an attempt by the Government to interfere in the drinking habits of our population. I am trying to make sure that publicity is given to the real dangers of women drinking while pregnant. I have found that the vast majority of women abstain completely once they know they are expecting - but in my brief research in the last few days I have found that there is an ignorance about the effects of what drink can do to the foetus, and some women may drink without knowing they are pregnant, or without knowing the dangers.

This needs a co-ordination between the Drug and Alcohol Policy, Sexual Health Strategy and education in schools and by Health professionals.

At the Conference last week there were seasoned professionals, including head teachers with years of experience who did not realise that a foetus with no liver was in such danger from alcohol.

But again, thanks for the Examiner for kick starting what I hope may prevent some children from acquiring brain damage.

Foetal Alcohol Disorder is the single largest cause of preventable brain damage in new born children.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Foetal Alcohol Disorder

I was going to carry on my story of early days in Tynwald - last updated in October - and maybe I will come back to that. However, I want to talk about something which I have found quite disturbing.

I was away last week for three days in Blackpool at the North of England Education Conference, a conference for educationalists and providers of children services, which was being held for the 104th year - so quite well established. A cheapish trip with Manx2, but so valuable.

With me was Stuart Dobson, deputy director of Education, who knows his educational stuff and he also gained a lot from the Conference. There were several interesting and important themes, more of which later perhaps, but we went to a subsiduary meeting on children with Special Needs, in particular variants of ADHD.

So here is the story.

In the Isle of Man we have nearly double the number of children with ADHD that we should have statistically. We thought that we were either over-diagnosing it or there is something about Manx culture/genetics to account for this.

But maybe not...

Despite having worked in Health now for nine months, and previously being in the DHSS, Foetal Alcohol Disorder rated barely a mention, and I knew no details of it, except that it was not wise for pregnant women to drink.

Here is what I learned in Blackpool.

When you drink alcohol, it stays in your body for about six hours, and your liver and the enzymes deal with it. If you are pregnant, your baby, until very late in pregnancy, has NO liver, has NO enzymes. The alcohol stays in the foetus and cannot be dispersed. The result is physical damage to the brain - babies are born with smaller brains, with brains with chunks missing (usually the part which deals with numbers and calculating) and the normal walnutty wrinkles of a properly developed brain are largely missing.

Children born with this brain defect are very verbose, but in most other areas have a much lower mental age. There is a very distinct physical look to the children as well.

Here is the worrying bit. One in a hundred children are now being born with this defect.

In the Isle of Man this equates to about 9 children a year. However, we were informed that FAD is often not picked up, but just generally included in with children with ADHD.

The problem with young women who binge drink is that it often messes up their mentrual cycle, and they do not realise they are pregnant until much later than normally. In the meantime, every drink does further damage.
I have no doubt that we drink alcohol more than most of the rest of the UK, and I know enough about our population to say that binge drinking by young girls in the Island is not uncommon.

And here is the speculation - but to Stuart and I, a bit of a light-bulb moment. Is our higher rate of ADHD accounted for by a higher rate of Foetal Alcohol Disorder?

We don't know, but are going to find out. I have started research with our Health Department and we need some answers. But most of all we need a very public information campaign to highlight how serious this problem is. I discovered in Blackpool that some Directors of Education and Children's Services had never heard of this syndrome, and the teaching of children with the special needs caused by FAD needs a radical rethink.

This syndrome is ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE and the affected children have lives and attainment of a much lower standard than they should. If you know any young girls or women who binge drink, alert them now.

This my first step to raising awareness. I am a health amateur, and my cod reasoning may be shot down, but I will ask the experts to pick this up and give the public the facts.

We have huge campaigns about Drink Driving, which cause about one death every ten years - we need a campaign about Binge Drinking which is causing misery to at least nine, probably more children, every year.

If I can work out how to get photos and links, I will put them in the next post.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Those first few weeks....

Having survived my first LegCo meeting, the next week it was straight into a heavy three day Tynwald sitting.

The paper work was about 10 inches deep and I read every word. I certainly did not understand every word. Some of the Social Security orders were so complex as to be unintelligible and could only be understood if you read every Socal Security Act in the IOM and UK for the last thirty years. I copped out by contacting a friend who worked in Social Security who gave me the Beginner's Guide. Five years on, they don't get any easier.

So, my first Tynwald sitting, on the Ides of March, but there were no thunderstorms the night before. The omens were good. The venue was a room in St. George's Hall in Myrtle Street, being used while the Wedding Cake was being refurbished. My view of one half of the members of the Keys was obscured by a vase of flowers, but I was too polite to ask for it to be moved.

They were three long days, where I concentrated like never before. I switched the brain into top gear and set it to Absorb and Memorise.

And here are the Highlights of those three days:

Notes from Members:

I had noticed that the clerks in the chamber, dapper elderly gentlemen dressed in tail coats, were buzzing around passing notes from member to member. What was that about? Must be very important I thought, and I was definitely not part of the Important Note Passing Gang.

And then I got one - handed up to me, addressed to me. It was from David Anderson, Minister of Education. It said words to the effect "You do realise that the reason you were elected to Legco was to make sure that Mr. ******** doesn't fall asleep?". I immediately looked at Mr. *******, who was indeed asleep. A nod to Mr. Anderson, a slightly noisy cough, and I had done my first duty in Tynwald.

My Maiden Speech:

What a nerve wracking event that was. I spoke without notes, - not always the most efficient way of getting your point across, but often more effective.

I spent ten minutes building up courage to make it, and another five minutes trying to catch the eye of the President. It was about the International Business School, and my view of the value of our children going across for their University education. I sat down afterwards, a particular type of virginity lost, with not a clue as to what I had said.

The next speaker, Phil Gawne, started his speech congratulating me on my maiden speech. That was embarrassing, but it turned out that was the traditional thing to do. Reading the speech back later it was amazingly coherent for a person making things up as he went along with no idea how each sentence was going to finish, or what his real point was.

Two more of the Important Notes arrived for me, congratulating me on the speech, and I began to feel a little less like an alien observing a strange planet.

More on making speeches in later blogs.

Select Committees:

Being the new boy, with no Departments to work in, I was vulnerable to election to every Select Committee going. I didn't know that at the time, and after a debate about a cock-up by DOLGE in preparing financial accounts in respect of the Incinerator, a decision was made to set up a Select Committee to investigate what happened.

I was immediately nominated. My first thought was along the lines of "They must appreciate that I can investigate things and will be a valuable person for the job". The reality was, "Anyone but me, and give it to Butt, he has nothing to do".

Come the vote, I topped the poll with 22 votes and was on my first Select Committee. My thought was probably, "These people really need me". Their thought was "That'll learn him"

That Tynwald finished with me having learned a lot, but understanding much less. I found out on the third day that there was a room where several Keys members nipped out for a cup of coffee during the Boring Bits. I found out that I felt very much the Outsider and it was hard to slip into the conversations of longer established cosy relationships. I found out that it would be a move forward to impose the rules of Just a Minute to debates. I found some wonderful mixed metaphors and malapropisms. I found that writing them down had become my new hobby.

As to the Select Committee, that was a wise move by all concerned. I really did not have a job of any sort for several months and that gave me a real and early insight into both the workings of Tynwald and the Government. Starting my Tynwald career by investigating and questioning, my only real skills, was a bit of a bonus.

And I have to admiit, interrogating and challenging Civil Servants was a bit like playing a home fixture. I was starting to think, "I can do this"..... Even if no-one else was.......

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Into the Light......

And this is what happened next….. The following Tuesday I was sworn in. This involved a very ancient and I have to say, profoundly serious ceremony, and the words which stood out were “Without Fear or Favour” Best guidelines possible.

The ceremony was conducted with his usual dignity and eye-twinkle by my brother-in-law, Mike Kerruish, First Deemster. A couple of weeks earlier I had a shoulder operation following a football injury, and was supposed to be in a sling for six weeks. It appears to be in my make-up never to show weakness or pain, so the sling was discarded early, and I had discreetly to use my good arm to lift my left signing hand up to sign the official documents. Mike noticed, but no-one else. And it hurt.

As I arrived at the Swearing In, I was met at the door by Dominic Delaney, the member I had ‘ousted’ by my election. My intervention had put an end at that stage to his long parliamentary career. He shook my hand and wished me well. I really appreciated that generous gesture from Dominic.

Straight after the Swearing-In, I took part in my first session of the Legislative Council. I was warmly welcomed by everyone, and proceedings were conducted sitting down, but it was hard to relax. It was all brand new to me, and very daunting. There were, to me, strange procedures to follow which I tried to pick up and memorise as the session went along.

I spoke briefly in my first appearance, making some comment about the wording of a clause in a bill dealing with Coastal erosion and control. That was in effect my ‘maiden speech’ The word “connivance” appeared in a clause and I commented that it seemed an inappropriate word to have in legislation. Not a sparkling start, but I was able to demonstrate (to myself) that I knew my way around legislation and how it worked.

Meanwhile, paper work of huge quantities was arriving at my home – and continues to do so. My next move was to Ramsey Mart, always a good and familiar place to turn to when you have a problem. There is always something very reassuring about the smell of cow-muck. It brings back the cosy candle-lit evenings of my youth nestling into a cow's flanks and drawing down the milk. By hand of course.

At the Mart I bought two second-hand four drawer filing cabinets. A futile purchase as they were filled within weeks. I later realised that I should instead have bought a shredder. You do learn.

The first hurdle was over, now for my first session of Tynwald - and that was a Different Country. Come with me sole reader, to that Strange Place next time....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In the Beginning...

The light did not shineth in the darkness…..

I heard I had been elected into Tynwald from my brother-in-law, monitoring Manx Radio, a few minutes after it had been announced. My radio dial in those days was welded immovably to Radio 4 and twiddling the dial as far away as Manx Radio was too great a step into the unknown.

So, what to do next? Apart from to grin stupidly and wonder what on earth had happened……

I had loved the idea of sticking my head above the parapet for a couple of weeks, I liked the idea of the challenge, but I had no idea that I would actually walk on the pavement of politics.

Texts and phone calls then came in from family and friends and I was advised to get down to Tynwald.

I went for a pint at the Shore at Laxey that night, after a football meeting, and there met by chance Peter Karran who advised me not to join the ‘troughites’ and get clubby-clubby and matey-matey.

Sound advice, but five years on I am still trying to find out where this “Club” is.

I went into Tynwald Chambers the next day, politely enquiring at the counter. No-one had any idea who I was.

The Clerk of Tynwald, Malachy Cornwell-Kelly greeted me and gave me a few basic ideas of what would happen next, which soon disappeared from my consciousness. This was all so new, and of course, unexpected. I know that I signed a form agreeing to be a member of Tynwald and was then ushered into the Chambers.

In those days the Member’s area consisted of one room, about 30 feet by 15 feet, with six desks, and a lounge area with a couple of easy chairs. 33 members, six desks. And it later became apparent that each desk was ‘owned’ by certain members. Woebetide you if you sat at the wrong desk.

Actually… does a bit of a grumpy frown justify using such a wonderful world as “woebetide”? Not really.

John Houghton, who I had met before was in the room and showed me round. He introduced me to several members, most of whom I knew of, but had never met. I was introduced to one member who refused to shake my hand. That was a real ‘gulp’ moment.

What had I come into?

Another member greeted me brusquely with, “You’ve no right to be here” before walking off. John was himself a little stunned and apologized on behalf of the other members.

I was the first ‘outsider’ for many years, and it was obvious that an outsider would not be universally popular and that I would have to earn any respect.

I was warmly welcomed by the President, Noel Cringle, who has seen it all before and was quite willing to accept the Outsider. In fact, most members gave me a warm welcome in the subsequent weeks

Then I was in a bit of a limbo. I was given a second hand laptop – still got it. An ex-Water Board jobbie, stuffed with hidden files and with speeds approaching Billy the Sloth.

Oh, and a diary. A diary that has ruled my life for the last five years.

I was also given a set of Standing Orders - and a lot of mysteries to unravel.

I was at the end of a Spike Milligan Q8 sketch – “What are we going to do now, what are we going to do now?” and sidled sideways out of the room….

So much to take in, so little understanding of what was going on around me. It is strange to look back those five years, as now it all seems rational and structured. But I was in those first days, very much in the Dark, and waiting for the Light. I determined to find me a Torch…..

Next blog – the first few weeks, and it will get more interesting……


Thursday, August 5, 2010

The View from Outside and Inside...

I was a Sniper. Not a conspiracy theorist, but definitely a Sniper. On the old ManxNet Forums during 2004 and early 2005, I was amongst those having a go at Government, and as soon as the MEA 'scandal' broke, the forums exploded with bile against Government. The MEA added to the list of such other alleged scandals as The Hospital, the Incinerator and any other White Elephants flying home to roost that you could name.

And how times haven't changed.

Read the forums nowadays, and exactly the same sniping is still going on. VAT , Reciprocal Health Agreement, spending on new schemes - these are the current versions of The Hospital, The Incinerator and the MEA.

I went into Tynwald for various reasons, but two of them were 1) To boldly seek out the Brown Envelopes 2) To find out how Things Work.

1. The Brown Envelope - I have looked hard, but there is absolutely no sign of such a beast. There may have been at one time, but everyone I have dealt with has been totally straight. Perhaps they know I am watching them....... The only 'perks' which come the way of a Member of Tynwald are a diary, and a sloth-like second hand laptop.

Having said that, there are mistakes, there are occasionally cock-ups. But, it turns out that the Incinerator works, it gives us energy for 3000 houses, we no longer have to bury waste in the ground, and it came in on time and on budget. Similarly the Hospital. It came in within the budget approved by Tynwald, even though there were problems with a contractor who went bandit. The MEA is another story, and as a member of the Select Committee investigating the affairs for the last five years, I think the public will be interested in the story when it comes out later in the year.

2. How Things Work - that has been fascinating - we have a great Island, and the infrastructure is superb. I have been behind the scenes at all the major water, electric and sewage works, the Incinerator, specialist areas of the Hospital, underground with the IRIS tubes and systems, and the power station. Much of it is like being on a James Bond set, but they Make Things Work.

We have the essentials of life which all work well, because someone - perhaps even helped by politicians - had the foresight to make them happen, and sometimes they did it when we had little money.

For example, Sulby reservoir was built when the Island was on its uppers. The projects of today - the new Bemahague School, and new homes for the elderly are modern examples of where we spend to invest in the future. And that must go on, and if it keeps people employed and off the dole, so much the better.

As for the current problems, most of them came at Government out of the blue. How they were handled may be criticised, but as Harold MacMillan said when asked what the greatest challenge was for a politician, “Events, my dear boy, events” Events happen.

Having realised that this is the second MacMillan quote in consecutive blogs, and that I only need a Wind of Change to complete the set, I leave this blog with my sniping rifle better focussed and a weather eye cocked for those pesky envelopes.....

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Stalking Horse

Apologies for the last very boring post, that is if anyone is reading it.

So how did I come to be a member of Tynwald?

An interest in politics probably started with the family, where we got up for work one hour before we went to bed, lived in that cardboard box and shared out the gravel as the one meal of the day....

But a life not far removed from that.

I can remember vividly the excitement of the 1959 UK General Election. We had finally been connected to ‘the electric’ and moved from accumulator powered radio, to a real telly. The Tories won again for the third time, and in my then simplistic view, “the posh people” had won. Living on raw moots and cow's milk, we had "never had it so good"

An obsessive interest in politics developed over the next few years. I also remember being on nights as a young PC during the 1966 election and standing discreetly outside a house in Hilary Park for about an hour, watching through the curtains at the results flicking through on a tiny black and white screen.

Later in my career I spent a long time as a representative on the Police Federation, their Union, and got a taste of the cut and thrust of negotiation and conflict with Government.

When I retired in 2001 my plan was to stand for Garff in the General Election in November, but my sister, who had put in nearly ten hard years as a Laxey Commissioner, decided to stand, and it would have been wrong to stand against her.

Milibands - take note.

I was asked to stand for Legislative Council a couple of years later, but decided against it. In 2005 I was asked again, and gave it more thought. I stood with the view that there was no way I would be elected, but it would be good experience if I decided to stand for the Keys in 2006.

So I put my name forward. I now suspect that I was asked to stand as a ‘Stalking Horse’ a sort of Sir Anthony Meyer figure. There were possibly factions within the Keys who did not want some of the Keys and Legco candidates who had put their names forward, and my involvement would have at least ensured there was a genuine contest and possibly taken votes away from the less favoured candidates. At the time I had no idea this may have been the case - and maybe it wasn’t.

In the event, I was elected first time, with 14 votes, along with Donald Gelling and George Waft. I was very surprised - and so I suspect were a lot of the Keys members who had voted that day.

At a Young Farmers concert parody a few weeks later, I was depicted by a character with two large arched eyebrows painted high above the eyes.. Looking very surprised..... Surprised is perhaps not strong enough. I was amazed. I had no friends in the Keys, no connection through clubs or organisations, and had no idea why 14 Keys members would vote for me, or who they were. I still have no idea who the 14 were,

Next Blog - my views of Tynwald before I went in - The Search for Brown Envelopes, and What I Found Out.....