My Experience of the Privatised NHS is crap

So it seems it is often accepted as given that the patient’s experience is improved when NHS services are delivered by external contractors.
And there are all sorts of issues to do with money and stuff, which I will ignore for now.

But, having just waited more than 20 minutes on the phone to get an answer from such a contracted company, I thought I would rant about how the whole experience was worse than I get from the “normal” NHS.

My GP referred me for ENT investigation.
I ended up being invited for a consultation with someone from something labelled as “Community Outpatients”. It is not immediately obvious that this is a private company, especially given the name, but it is.
I had the consultation; some treatment was prescribed, along with a CT scan.
The CT scan was at RHCH (Winchester NHS Hospital). That was amazing:- the whole visit and scan was executed so quickly that I didn’t pay any parking charges because I was in and out in less than 30 mins., including the scan itself and walking the length of the site twice.
I then had another consultation with Community Outpatients (by telephone, in fact, but that isn’t unusual nowadays, my GP does that), and was told they were recommending I look at having surgical treatment.
So I have now been referred (you guessed it) back into the maintstream NHS to see a consultant at the RHCH.

So what has happened?
Privatised service: I will have had three consultations with three different consultants, and then an operation scheduled. And they can’t even answer the phone in a timely manner, or provide the records I need, by the way.
Non-privatised: (Typically) I would have two consultations with the same consultant and then an operation scheduled. And I can get through on the phone.

OK – not *such* a big difference, but the point is that it is different, and *worse*, not *better*.

And what really pisses me off, of course, is that my worse experience has cost the NHS *more* money. At the minimum, they have had to fund an extra consultation.
In fact, they will have also put some profit into someone’s pocket. I accept that Community Outpatients has managed some stuff, and therefore can be paid for management as well as the clinical stuff, but they are actually a big business making a chunk of profit from my taxes that are funding the NHS.

If you want to know, they are one of a number of subsidiaries of Concordia Health Holdings LLP, which is owned by two Mr Hurds from Nottingham, and which had a turnover of over £18M in 2016, with a gross profit of over £6M.

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“It’ll be alright”

And yes, I mean Brexit.

I heard this yet again the other night from a street interview on TV: we might have a bit of short term economic disruption, but it’ll be alright after that.

I mean, where does the come from? Since when did the the future of me, my children and grandchild(ren) depend on some vague conviction that “it’ll be alright”, without any decent study of the processes, and attempt to understand?

Being an old fart, I see this as part of the decline of society, and it isn’t just Brexit, of course. I have a sense that Trumpism is the same. People can’t be bothered (or don’t want to) think about and try to work out what will happen. They want something to change, and vote for something to change, and just do, confident in the ‘knowledge’ that “it’ll be alright”.

I suspect that the same is true of many of the credit bills being run up – I don’t have the money now, and I don’t know where it will come from in the future, but “it’ll be alright”. Although I have no evidence for that.

So what is going on?

Is it anti-intellectualism – we can’t trust those experts? I’m not so sure.

I have a feeling it is just that the world feels so complicated, that any attempt to actually analyse and predict just feels so hard, that it feels like it isn’t worth trying. It is much easier to believe that “it’ll be alright”, and just go with the flow.

Only, of course, the future won’t be like you want it to be just because that’s what you want.

I am reminded of when I used to play chess as a 12 year old, and why I stopped playing. It would get to the complex middle game, an hour or two in, and I would make a big mistake. I worked out that what happened was that I had been sitting looking at some difficult combination for a while, and it just got so hard, that I would just say to myself “Yeah, I think this move is OK – what could go wrong? Anyway, it’s only a game.” A few moves later I would have discovered what could go wrong, when I lost a piece, or whatever. This meant that I had to grind on for another two or three hours trying to rescue a draw, when what should have happened is that I won.

This is, I think, what is happening with Brexit and many other decisions being made – and, unfortunately it isn’t just a game.

And here’s some more from later:

In technology, the government is pathetic with this.
1. Let’s ban end-to-end encryption. But e-Commerce will die. Oh, it’ll be alright, someone will solve the problem.
2. Let’s have a backdoor in mobile devices. But it will put everyone’s data at risk. Oh, it’ll be alright, someone will solve the problem.
3. Let’s require ISPs etc. to log everything. But that puts peoples privacy and human rights at risk. Oh, it’ll be alright, someone will solve the problem.
4. Let’s require all porn sites to verify the age of uses. But all sorts of things might go wrong and are unpredictable. Oh, it’ll be alright.

And, as Steve Harris said, what about climate change, population growth, the end of high levels of employment.

I think what really pisses me off about it is the utter and outrageous irresponsibility of it all. The population elects people to spend their time understanding the consequences of actions. That is what they have to do. And so many just completely renege on the deal.

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Headline Statistics

Baby teeth removals ‘up 24% in a decade’
These bloody statistic things really piss me off.
They quote a big headline figures, and then make it difficult to work out something sensible.
For your information: allowing for the 16% increase in the UK (0-4) population over the last 10 years, I calculate an increase of 6.6% (of the order of 550 extra for the whole UK, by the way – that’s a couple of extra kids in the whole of Southampton, I think.)
And since they mention it, they clearly thought it might be relevant, but don’t bother to work it out.
Of course any figures are not nice, but 7% is a loooong way from 24%.

And it is the Royal College of Surgeons‘s fault – their press release is the offending document.
As so often happens, they create the biggest nonsense figure they can think of and then put it in the headline.
It would even have been natural to put the sensible (population-normalised) figure in the table in their Note 3, but they chose to leave it out.

Actually, there is possibly a really interesting story here.
It turns out that much of the increase is in the last 5 years or so. Could it be that in the post-2008 financial climate, people in general are not going to the dentist? Ah, you might say, but children are free. Yes, but recent reports suggest that children aren’t going to the dentist because their parents aren’t.

By the way, the same organisation’s Report on the State of Children’s Oral Health is much more sensible than the press release. It says:

However, it is not immediately clear why the number of hospital admissions for children with dental caries is increasing. One possible explanation is the similar percentage increase in the birth rates of these children, but there has not been a significant change in the level of treatment for children with dental caries in primary care. Other explanations could be that children are not being treated appropriately in primary care, or they are seeking dental treatment when the caries is already at an advanced stage so must be referred to specialist services. Alternatively, it could be that preventive measures such as moderating the consumption of sugar and/or brushing teeth are decreasing.

One final comment – in 2000, Department of Health changed its recommendation about general anaesthetic, saying that it should only be done in hospital, due to safety concerns. It is always interesting to think about what other policy changes might have contributed to statistical changes. For example, it may have taken a while for the advice to be implemented, or maybe that has contributed to a change in dentists’ behaviour, in that they are more likely to recommend extraction in a hospital than extensive other work in the surgery.
7% (of the order

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The Digital Catapult Really Screwing up Trust about Personal Data

Executive Summary

In publishing a report about how organisations need to build trust with the public about the storage and use of their Personal Data, the Digital Catapult has done almost all the classic things to undermine that trust.
And they even missed a great opportunity – the research suggests that if an organisation does screw up, and then comes clean and corrects things, it ends up with a higher level of trust than if they hadn’t screwed up in the first place.
But they didn’t.

Now read on if you wish…

Wendy tweeted about a new report:

Wendy Hall ‏@DameWendyDBE 1d1 day ago
#PDTReview has been launched today by @DigiCatapult! Get the report here:

I though it might be interesting, so I followed to find that it was called “TRUST IN PERSONAL DATA: A UK REVIEW”. When I finally got the report, it turned out it says things like “We must build consumer trust or risk future failure” and “Building trust in the use of personal data is the responsibility of every digital stakeholder in the UK”.
However, I get ahead of myself: in order to get it, I was required to fill in a short form, giving my names, email, organisation and the organisation type (as mandatory fields).
Like many people (apparently, when I read the report), I choose to be careful about where my personal information goes. And it seemed to me that there was no reason why the Digital Catapult should need more than my email address, even if it did decide that it was not going to make the PDF available for download, but only by personal request over email.
So I tweeted:

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Can I get a copy of #PDTReview without giving you my Personal Data please?

So far, disappointing, but OK.
Now the screw up starts:

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 29
@hughglaser Thanks for tweet. We ask anyone wishing to download the report to fill in a few fields so we can get the report to them swiftly.

Yup, “swiftly”!
Good practice to have a prompt response, but I can recognise a classic case of making up an answer, just to get rid of me. 🙂 This is known as flimflam or flannel by support staff. Like “Your database is running slowly because it is the wrong colour, we are repainting for the next release, so it will be better.” (cf
But actually, this is displaying a lack of respect – the public aren’t fools.
So now I’m hooked!

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Huh? Swiftly?!!! My Organisation? Why not a PDF download link? It smells like you are actually touting to get a DB of people.

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 29
@hughglaser For clarity, we are not keeping a DB unless people opt-in. Equally happy to share report with you via non sign in. Please DM.

(Opt-in: There is a tick box on the page that invites people to sign up for a Network.)
But come on! This is more flimflammed flannel. No answer to why the “swiftly”. And why am I typing if it doesn’t get kept. Again, the public aren’t fools. And don’t take me for one. I know you are keeping the data – just own up to it!

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Thanks, may do. But hang on: if I don’t tick the box, you don’t keep anything I type? So why ask? And it says “SIGN UP…”.

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 29
@hughglaser Thanks for your feedback Hugh. We’ve amended the page so people can fill in details if they so wish, rather than ‘sign up’.

Classic! I’m not going to fix the bug – I’ll change the documentation – any Software Engineer worth their salt recognises that one. They did change it, so the page says “FILL IN…” instead of “SIGN UP…”.
And what is this “if they so wish” – more noise words of flimflam and flannel – there is no other option I can see.

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Sorry to be a bear with a sore head, but I’m still not making sense of this. What does “if they so wish” mean.

Now, there does seem to be some deeper investigating in order, so I went to the page and gave it my details and got the email with the report – and very interesting reading it is too.
At the same time, I emailed:

Subject: Personal Data Request
Please can you tell me what personal details you hold about me, as specified in section 1.7 of
Thank you.

Within an hour (well done!) I got a lovely response, which I won’t quote because it was in email. But in there it said that they had my name, email, business name and organisation type – exactly the same details that I was being told aren’t being kept!
This needed a private response, I think – although these are really important issues, I had no wish to cause any serious embarrassment on twitter. It was something that the Digital Catapult should get the chance to put right, so it was an email back:

Subject: Re: personal data request
Dear xxxxx,
Many thanks for your swift and detailed response.
I appreciate an organisation that can do this - on the rare occasions I have done asked others, some of them simply fail!
Unfortunately, your response tells me that the person who does your twitter feed has basically lied to me:
Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult 5h5 hours ago @hughglaser For clarity, we are not keeping a DB unless people opt-in. Equally happy to share report with you via non sign in. Please DM.
OK, it may be that the data you have is not in a real “DB", but in principle you have a problem here.
I clearly have a problem with your report being used to get personal data about people.
The deep, deep irony is that it is undermining trust in exactly the way the report says should be built up.
How should we resolve this?
Is your twitter feed going to give some honest and clear answers?

In the meantime, the next day I had no response to my question on Twitter, so I asked again:

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser 8h8 hours ago
@DigiCatapult What does “if they so wish” mean? Is there another option if they don’t want to?

To which there was a swift response:

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 30
@hughglaser Hi Hugh, you can now directly access the review here:

That’s good!
But it isn’t really what we need by now.
Any trust I might have had in the Digital Catapult has been completely undermined.
What went wrong?
Will it go wrong again?
Should I not expect an apology?
Later, I got a response to my email. It was very nice, inviting me to join the network and asking if I wanted my details removed. But it was also rather disappointing, in that it suggested that what were effectively the lies I had been told about the Digital Catapult keeping my Personal Data were because of the limitations of 140 characters in Twitter, and that the DB issue was because it was a different, “marketing” DB.
Oh dear – more flimflam and flannel.

Thanks xxxxx,
Just a quick question before I respond at more length, please:
I think blaming the 140 is a bit disingenuous: "For clarity, we are not keeping a DB unless people opt-in.” is pretty unequivocal.
So what is the scope and purpose of the DB that you found my data in?

I also sent a message asking what is the scope and purpose of the DB that I am in.

So, coming to an end…
I exchanged a few more email,and then had a chat on the phone.
As best I see it:
The Digital Catapult wants/needs to report to the funding body what interactions they have with companies. So they gather the sort of information above. It is disturbing, because they don’t seem to think that this is “using” the information (it’s not for marketing, in particular). In fact, I am now really rather disturbed that the Digital Catapult, which has just issued a report relating to Personal Data, have significant people who actually don’t understand Data Protection, and the related regulations. We discussed how the Terms and Conditions could be improved to reflect this situation.

I asked for an apology on Twitter for taking me for a fool (at which point it felt like the call had become distinctly frosty 🙂 Or maybe it was because I mentioned I would blog about it.)

Now it is time to leave it – maybe they have learned something!

One lesson – make sure that the person on your twitter feed is technically savvy, or at least understands when they need to get advice.

Some more lessons?
Don’t take the public fools and just fudge things with brush off messages and flimflam, and when you make a mistake, come clean as soon as possible; oh, and apologise for it.
This is serious stuff – it was worth the Digital Catapult spending money to write a report about it!
And perhaps even paying Experian money to gather data, although that isn’t clear.
And, of course, “Oh the Irony!” That this should happen about a report on Trust and Personal Data!

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New Apple Keyboard

So the new Apple keyboard has got the character engraving ever so slightly offset to the right, and maybe a bit up too.

And the engravings don’t even align along the bottom properly – keys like “J”, “G”, “6” and “2” are slightly lower than the others in the row.

How do you manage to break something like that!

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Open Data Projects that Don’t Make Their Data Open

Sounds bizarre, but it seems to be the norm.

The very people who are at the forefront of consuming Open Data, funded by my tax money, almost always fail to make the fruits of their labours available as Open Data in their turn.

Let’s see: You get some public funds to build a demonstrator that shows how great Open Data is.

So you go away and harvest all sorts of data from a variety of sources (both easy and hard), and then add lots of value by linking it together and then synthesising new values and providing new insights.

Then hopefully in some time that corresponds to the proposal timescales, you launch your wizzo site, with fancy visualisations and everything. You get the loud praise and tweets from the great and good saying how this demonstrates how great Open Data is.


I come along with a little email asking if I can please have the data (so that I can use it for and other stuff I have that is set up to use the Open Data food chain).

I then get the standard response: “Ah, yes, we intend to make the data public, but <fill in a reason here />, and give us just a little time.”

Following that, I usually wait a few weeks or months, and then ask again. I might get another response along the same lines. I will probably ask another 2 or 3 times over the course of the next year or so, sometimes getting a response, but then decide that the data is probably too old now to be of interest, and I am wasting my time in any case because it ain’t going to happen. (It is unlikely that the original project actually included a real plan for keeping the application up to date by refreshing the data, or that the technology is actually able to do that.)

The point that anyone working in Open Data knows is that if you don’t build in the mechanisms and technology from the start to make data open, then grafting it on at the end is hard, expensive, unreliable, and various other bad words. So why don’t people put it in the proposal, and why don’t the funders require it to be part of the projects?

And the worst thing is that sometimes you hear the people who have done these projects (that are essentially data sinks) actually complaining that they couldn’t get data they wanted for their project from some other source!

Now ain’t that hypocritical?!

I would actually prefer it, by the way, if the response to my request for the data was more along the lines of, well we built a demonstrator, and we aren’t going to make the data open. There are actually quite a few sensible reasons for doing that.

Right, I’m off to think about which of my datasets is Open… 🙂

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Misquoting Harold Wilson’s “White Heat” speech

Usually Harold Wilson’s famous 1963 speech is quoted as something like Britain needed to be forged in the white heat of technology, or technological revolution.

Both of these are wrong.

I think Wikiquote has it right:
“In all our plans for the future, we are re-defining and we are re-stating our Socialism in terms of the scientific revolution. But that revolution cannot become a reality unless we are prepared to make far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes which permeate our whole system of society. The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.”

Why rewrite science to technology? Wilson knew about technology, but he chose science. And his audience would have understood the word at that time.

A good and honest short quote for this might be “forged in the white heat of this [scientific] revolution”.

It is a powerful view, given by Wilson, that it is the scientific revolution and the science that drives the world, and enables the technology, and it is the science that should be supported, and certainly not just the technology.

We can only assume that people who misquote are being deliberately mendacious or simply ignorant.

And it is a shame in this world of technology and Web Science that we lose the import of the middle sentence: that we need to be prepared to make far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes.

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