Category Archives: Blog

Making Birmingham a Donor City: I’ve signed-up to the Organ Donor Register – have you?

As the British Transplant Games drew to a close on Sunday, Birmingham was named Transplant Sport’s first ever Donor City. The award (in association with the Daily Mirror) recognises the city’s commitment to increasing the number of Birmingham citizens signed-up to the Organ Donor Register.

Council leader Ian Ward explains why he has registered to be a donor and urges other Birmingham citizens to do the same.

When I was asked earlier this year how hosting the British Transplant Games might be used to improve donor registration rates in the city, I suggested that Birmingham might become a Donor City.

And I’m delighted that – what seemed to me at the time to be a simple suggestion – has now brought together colleagues and partners from the NHS, Public Health and Birmingham City Council.

Now, our challenge is to use this award as a springboard to increasing awareness of the need for more donors and ultimately to bringing about a step-change in donor registration in Birmingham.

Our ambition is to make Birmingham the highest organ donor city in the UK; and the sad fact is that there is plenty of room for improvement.

According to NHS statistics released earlier this year, people in the West Midlands are the least likely in the country to have signed up to the organ donor register. In fact, fewer than one in four people in the region have signed up and in Birmingham the figure falls to just 21 per cent – sadly we are the second ranked of all core cities.

Those figures are not good enough, and sadly the picture gets even worse when you look at our BAME communities, which is why this project will have a particular focus on encouraging citizens from BAME communities (around 40 per cent of our population) to register.

Birmingham is an incredibly diverse city, home to people who can trace their roots back to virtually every country in the world – but if you are black, Asian or from another minority ethnicity, you have a significantly lower chance of receiving an organ than white patents.

Wolverhampton MP Eleanor Smith, who led a review into the situation entitled ‘Ending the Silent Crisis’, summed-up the problem when she recently wrote: “If members of the BAME communities don’t make donations of blood, organs and stem cells, then people will die! This is a very real health crisis. Demand is high – disproportionally high. And supply is extremely low.”

To address the shortfall, we must establish donation as a normal act. People in every community must feel able to talk about donation, illness and death. These are not easy topics and I understand why people shy away from them.

But organ donation saves lives and is the only hope for many desperately ill people in this city and elsewhere. There are people across the city who are alive today thanks to organ donation. They are alive because grieving relatives – in their darkest moments – selflessly agreed to help families also facing the prospect of losing a loved one.

The selfless actions of those courageous families should not be underestimated. They are true heroes.

If Birmingham lives up to the title of Donor City we will be a city of heroes and we will deliver a legacy that will improve the lives of many people on organ donor waiting lists.

Earlier this week we learned that a new opt-out system for organ donation could be in place by 2020, which is potentially very good news. But we still have a challenge on our hands to make organ donation to default option for people in Birmingham.

So this will be a campaign for hearts and minds. We need to get to a place, where donors are admired and respected, and their altruism recognised.

And success – as is nearly always the case – will require a team effort.

I’ve signed up to the Organ Donor Register and I will encourage my fellow citizens to do the same, starting with my colleagues on the city council.

If enough of us step up, in every neighbourhood and every community across the city, then we will truly merit the title of Donor City.

To register to donate, go to: https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/register-to-donate/

For more information about donation go to: https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/about-donation/

How Birmingham is tackling the homelessness crisis

Homelessness_in_Birmingham infographic

Cllr Sharon Thompson, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet adviser for homelessness, outlines the measures being taken to tackle the homelessness crisis.

With unseasonably cold weather affecting much of Birmingham recently, increasing numbers of rough sleepers have been on the frontline facing the freezing temperatures.

Since 2010, rough sleeping has increased by 169% nationally and is a major issue in Birmingham. With challenging times ahead of us with the roll out of Universal Credit, the Homelessness Reduction Act and changes to supported housing, they also give us opportunities to make an impact on preventing homelessness and supporting vulnerable citizens.

We are inputting into national and regional initiatives to help shape the national picture to reflect the needs of Birmingham.

Encouragingly, 2017 figures are showing that these coordinated interventions made through partnership programmes and action taken by the Council are making an impact.

The work achieved by the Homelessness Partnership Board is one of the key reasons for this change. Established by the Council last year, with over 30 individuals from across different sectors, the board is responsible for implementing Birmingham’s newly approved Homelessness Prevention Strategy and driving a coordinated system of change for homelessness.

The Homelessness Prevention Strategy seeks to tackle and prevent homelessness at the earliest opportunity. Signed off by every cabinet member, it is recognised that homelessness is not just an issue for Housing and Health.

Homelessness in Birmingham is a priority and one which has seen the Council facing a big culture change in its approach. Part of this includes enacting the following projects that have been specifically created to help tackle the issue:

  • A Corporate Directorate Board has been created to ensure the entire council considers and prioritises homelessness.
  • We have established a multi-agency co located Street Intervention Team to respond to rough sleeping and associated activity.
  • We have taken the lead on developing the regional bid for Housing First pilot in the West.
  • The leader of the council, cabinet members for homes and housing, community safety and equalities and the ambassador for addressing homelessness, have all written to the Chancellor to raise concerns about the issues surrounding Universal Credit and housing allowances.
  • In conjunction with West Midlands Combined Authority, we have launched, ‘Change into Action’, an alternative giving scheme which supports specialist charities and Street Link teams that work to change the circumstances of rough sleepers.

For the first time in four years, 2017 figures do not show a sharp increase in the number of rough sleepers. However, to begin the drive towards eliminating homelessness, it needs to remain a primary focus for us at the Council.

I look forward to the challenge of working with our fantastic partners, local groups and volunteers to ensure that all the schemes in place continue to progress to help drive the positive trend we’re seeing that will step-by-step help to eradicate the problem of homelessness in Birmingham.

Northamptonshire crisis highlights the need an urgent rethink on local government funding

The disturbing news that Northamptonshire County Council has issued a section 114 notice, banning new expenditure, should act as a wake-up call to the Government that local government austerity has gone too far.

As The Guardian explained over the weekend, a section 114 notice is effectively an admission that a council does not have resources to meet current expenditure, that its financial reserves are depleted and that it has little confidence that it can bring spending under control in the near future.

The Conservative leader of Northamptonshire County Council Heather Smith said the local authority had ‘been in what you might call a perfect storm of huge increases in demand for our services at the same time as significant reductions in funding from central government’, adding that she had repeatedly warned the government about the growing crisis.

It’s important to note that this damning indictment of the situation local government finds itself in after eight years of Tory austerity does not come from a Labour administration, but from the leader of a Conservative county council.

Surely now the Government has to realise that local government cuts have simply gone too far. As Jeremy Corbyn said at Labour’s local government conference in Nottingham this weekend: “Austerity is unleashing chaos across our country, squeezing our local authorities and putting jobs, and the vital services they deliver, at risk.”

The vital services he refers to are services that support many of the most vulnerable in our society. Thanks to austerity, the safety net is threadbare and councils across the country – of all political persuasions – have made it clear that enough is enough.

Council spending power has fallen by almost half since 2010 and, rather than coming up with a sensible and workable plan for areas like social care and children’s services, the Government continues to kick the can down the road.

In Northamptonshire they’ve run out of road and editor of the Local Government Chronicle Nick Golding has warned that other councils will follow.

Surely now the time has come for the Government to admit once and for all that austerity is a failed and costly policy.