Former NHS Nurse and manager now contemplating the NHS from outside

Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

Is this the best way to cut the deficit?

No one doubts the need for deficit reduction. If I think about the difficult decisions I had to make 5 years ago or so, when I realised that my personal debts meant that my monthly payments to creditors practically outstripped my income. Something had to give, and that something was my credit cards and loans. The experience was painful, and sacrifices were needed. But today I have just a small amount of remaining debt (other than the mortgage and every month I have money to spend. Christmas, which used to be a time to dread has come and gone and I owe no more today than I did last month.

The nation’s debt is thankfully much greater than anything I could conceive personally, but the principles are the same. The causes of this are well written about, but in my opinion not worthy of mention since it can’t help us now. The Government takes an interesting approach to trying to balance the books. Reducing the size of the public sector I can understand; it hurts me to say but a lot of jobs were created and money was wasted. You need to be careful about the ways in which you cut services and with them jobs, it creates uncertainty and fear and leads to risk aversion. More jobs are lost and less created because of this. If jobs and services don’t spring up elsewhere then some of those people become unemployed or else take lower paid, lower status jobs. This in turn means that those who might have taken those jobs are shifted further down the pile. The most vulnerable in society suffer most from this approach.

In turn the Government has taken a look at the growing benefits bill and decided that this can and must be reduced. dependency on the state needs to be reduced (even as someone who believes in the welfare state) I can hardly argue with this desire. But by starting with the most vulnerable in society this Government risks the label so often given to the Tories of the past. It feels nasty to target benefits to disabled children and those with cancer. Especially in a week when Cameron has said that he would like to see the 50% tax rate for those earning £100k to be abolished even though it is bringing plenty of tax revenue into the exchequer.

Tonight the House of Lords has shown it’s worth and voted for changes to the Welfare bill associated with these elements of cuts. It is a shame that they haven’t shown the same approach with the Health and Social Care Bill!

Customer Service

I wrote recently about the issue of dignity and respect in the NHS and how the way we treat our patients may be linked to the general way in which we treat each other and are treated. Over the last week or two a couple of things have increased my view that we have a problem in this country with the way we speak and treat people that ultimately affects people when they come into contact with people in the public sector. We appear not to understand how to do customer service, so much so that even when we are customers in the purest sense some of those who should be part of the service don’t seem to recognise or care about that fact.

One day last week I arrived home to discover the telephone was not working, you could not ring in or out though the internet was working (strange I guess). I got onto my work provided mobile phone (having got the teenager of the house to find the phone number of the telephone company on the internet as I am quite useless at keeping numbers like that handy). The automated voice asked me to key in my phone number, then said it didn’t recognise it. I then had to wait for a very abrupt and verging on rude person. The company first asked me to clear various security hurdles before I could report my phone missing (luckily I do know my own address, post code and the bank my account is paid through) I was then placed on hold. 20 minutes later I hung up, I could hear various sounds going on in the call centre, but no one ever came back to me. The phone was however fixed at the end of all this, so I can hardly complain, well yes actually I was pretty miffed and used my hubby as a means of getting this off my chest.

Annoyance number two is about banks. I have an account purely used to service a loan. This loan is meant to be paid on 1st of the month. I make sure there is money in there and it is paid. This month I only remembered to do an electronic transfer of the missing £15 needed to pay the loan on the first. Sadly the bank had taken the loan payment on 30 April, and are now charging me £15 for going £15 over drawn (nice work if you could only get it!) I am still to go and have the argument with a human at the local branch but now I am calmer about that one it might go better. I was amused to receive the following as an email at the weekend, apparently recently published in the national press:

A 98 year old woman in the UK wrote this to her bank. The bank manager thought it amusing enough to have it published in the Times

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my cheque with which I endeavoured to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the cheque and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honour it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my Pension, an arrangement, which, I admit, has been in place for only thirty eight years. You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account £30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank.

My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally attend to your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become. From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person.

My mortgage and loan payments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank by cheque, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate. Be aware that it is an offence under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact Status which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Solicitor, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course, I will issue your employee with PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modelled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let me level the playing field even further. When you call me, press buttons as follows:

1 To make an appointment to see me.
2 To query a missing payment.
3 To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.
4 To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.
5 To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.
6 to transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.
7 To leave a message on my computer (a password to access my computer is required. A password will be communicated to you at a later date to the Authorised Contact)
8 To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through to 8.
9 To make a general complaint or inquiry, the contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service. While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous, New Year.

Your Humble Client

Car ownership and Leadership

Is expensive. That is my not surprising discovery. Having discovered I cannot afford a new car, and deciding I do not want to borrow money in someone else’s name to get one, I now have to spend money on the existing almost 3 year old car to bring it up to scratch. In the past I had cars which were leased by whichever NHS trust I was employed by and for which I paid dearly in both rental and taxation. However if for example the brakes needed fixing then they got fixed at no extra cost to me. Now though, the burden will fall to me and now that I have an ‘older’ car things like this need attending to. I have therefore parted company with £250 just in time for payday! What joy!

Today I went back to my former working environment and taught on a management programme study day. The topic was providing leadership for your team. I was surprisingly nervous, didn’t sleep well and found it quite hard to ad lib in the parts when I would usually just speak. However the day did go well, and people seemed to enjoy it and whats more actually learn stuff (now there is a bonus)! I was surprised to find that out of a room of 16 pretty experienced people, very few if any had actually read any leadership theory or indeed new any of the key leadership authors. I guess they are all busy doing their day jobs looking after patients, running teams and services and being manager types. I am doing the session again in a couple of weeks for a different group and think that I might be a bit more confident about that one. Might make a few changes to part of the day though, even I began to find some of the theory a bit dry!

Facing up to reality

I wrote last week about my financial difficulties and how it would potentially affect my ability to buy a new car on finance. Well yesterday, I received the news I had feared, the finance company have turned me down. The idea of a new car to replace my existing one was a nice one, but I am forced to wonder if I actually need such a thing. If the current deal resulted in me actually owning my current little car then all would be well, but it doesn’t. I need over £3000 to make this happen. My job is county wide and I am expected firstly to have a car and secondly to use it as part of my job. I do try to plan my diary so that I am not crossing the county too much, but sometimes meetings are set by others and I have little control over where they happen. The choices we faced yesterday evening were that either my husband stands as guarantor for the planned purchase, or that we ask my inlaws for a loan and that I pay them the current car payments until that is paid off (about 15 months) or that I send the car back and buy an old runaround type car. After a pretty sleepless night on my part I have decided on the second option and hubby has phoned his mum to ask. Thankfully she has agreed and so she now knows the shameful truth.

As I have said before, I take full responsibility for the situation I am in. However there are some factors that contributed. I took all the debt myself personally, so that hubby didn’t share it, I was persuaded by banks to borrow more, but then continued to spend in a stupid way. Now I am paying the price. The good thing is that I have paid off a fifth of the debt in just over a year, and will be debt free in just over 4 years. The inability to obtain more credit is I believe a blessing, because who am I kidding, I am still the same person and I can still happily live beyond my means and hubby is great at doing that too if it involves my name on the dotted line. I am not an alcoholic, or a drug addict, but I believe this is a problem along the same lines. I have a problem, but I am trying to take control of it, I just sometimes lose sight of the reality of what needs to be done.

The above is the reason I am struggling to think straight when it comes to normal blog posts. Hopefully normal service will be resumed very soon as I have some quite interesting things going on at work and in the NHS in general right now!

I’m finding this week difficult

I am having a busy week at work, and it is involving me doing lots of things with people from other organisations and with people who are what can only be described as the public. Yesterday I described an experience I had just had, and today there were more. A lady, who appeared not to know I was in the room spoke of having spent half an hour on the phone to ‘the PCT’ last week, and recounted some of what had been discussed. I knew that she was describing the conversation she had with me, but it was interesting to me that I was just an invisible thing to her and apparently represented an organisation that both commissions and delivers health care. We also had the opportunity to hear the real experiences of people who have had babies in the last few months. It is useful for us as commissioners and useful to the people who manage the midwives to hear both the positive and the negative. It was also interesting to note that the thing that interests the official patient and public user group (comprising mainly older people including the person described above) which is the place a baby is delivered was not the thing most vital to the new mums (the ante and post natal experience). I still have more of this stuff to come with a public meeting to go to on Saturday.

I am preoccupied by something this week. It is affecting my ability to concentrate at work, it is not affecting my ability to do my work but I am having to work hard to make myself appear to be my normal self. I feel kind of miserable, scared, nervous and many other things inside. It has affected my ability to sleep properly, it is affecting my appetite (not a bad thing) and it is making me snappy. I have spoken before about the financial problems that came to a head about 15 months or so ago and which I have been managing pretty well. However I am in danger of losing the plot because I have to do something about my car. I have a car on one of these ‘options’ deals. You pay for it monthly and the end of 3 years you give it back, or you keep it and pay up another £3000 or you part exchange it. I can’t just hand it back, because there would be a mileage penalty, I don’t have the money to buy it and I don’t know if I am credit worthy enough to part exchange it. However I am going to try the third option, and now I am just waiting to see what happens. To see if I can get the new car, and if I do how I will manage for a month having stumped up a deposit. I had forgotten how much money problems can cause you to feel stressed and constantly worried. I hate this feeling of being out of control and it brings home the fact that my financial situation is precariously balanced. Having said that I have paid a large amount off of my over all debt in the last 15 months and am still on track. So that is me, muddling through at work, feeling a little persecuted and yes kind of scared. However, on a positive note, at least I am thinking before I act, something I didn’t always do before and something that helped me get into that whole financial mess before.

A victory for the little person

bankersOne of my greatest challenges over the last year has been to come to terms with the fact that for a long time I have been spending far more than I earn. Hubby’s salary fluctuates due to overtime (or lack of it) but we have tended to think it is our right to continue to spend what we haven’t earned and all will be well with the world. Well about a year ago, I realised that all wasn’t well and if I wasn’t careful something very nasty could happen. Since then I have cut up all credit cards and been in dispute with various companies over the amount I can pay back in any single month. For a while that meant dozens of phone calls, some of them threatening every day from people in various call centres around the world, but thankfully arrangements have been made with all of those companies and all money will eventually be paid back. In fact my debt has already fallen by £8000, quite an achievement even if I do say so myself.

When you get into this kind of position, the banks and their charging policies really don’t make life easier for you. I have never expected to be able to take the bank’s money for nothing, but at times the charges caused me to go further into debt, resulting in a kind of downward spiral of borrowing, charges, more borrowing etc. A number of websites are now devoted to advising on money issues, including the reclaiming of bank charges and thousands of people in this country are reclaiming those charges from their banks. Yesterday I scored a victory against a multinational bank and am to receive back nearly £1800 in bank charges taken in the last 6 years. They do not admit liability and continue to say they are right, but will give me the money anyway. I could get more by taking them to court but actually I think I’ll call it quits.

My attitude to banks and the services they provide has changed significantly over the last year. They do not get you to pay off your overdraft with a loan as an act of charity, and they do not then encourage you to build up a further overdraft as another kind act. They are making money out of this process and whats more, the people who have more money and never go overdrawn are benefiting from this, because my charges subsidise this process. No one wants to give up ‘free’ banking, but I would rather pay a small monthly charge for using the service than pay £150 in one month for going overdrawn when it is their charges for the previous month that caused the problem in the first place.

I should use all of the money to pay off more debt, but this will make the difference between a family holiday and a week spent looking out of my window at my own garden. Therefore we are off to France for a week in July, thanks to the bank and the refund of my own money!

Drowning in debt

According to the BBC news Credit card this morning, British people are responsible for one third of the total debt in Europe! Apparently we are obsessed with our credit cards, and save very little money, preferring instead to spend it. A spend culture is in one way good for the economy, and also gives people that ‘feel good feeling’. But how good does it feel to know that it is only the banks getting rich? How good does it feel to know that the money you now owe on your credit cards (and the loans you took out to consolidate your card debt) is more than your first house cost you? How good does it feel to know that it is going to take you as long as a mortgage to pay back?

We are bombarded with information about credit cards, loans and now insolvency agreements (IVAs) all around us – mailshots, adverts in the newspapers, on TV and on billboards. It is hard to resist this quick spend culture, after all why should I wait till the end of the month to buy that new pair of shoes when I can have them today? Well I will tell you, before you know where you are, it isn’t shoes you are buying on your credit card, it is your weekly shopping, your petrol and suddenly you can’t make the payment on one without borrowing on the other.

At the beginning of the summer I made a decision which involved the cutting up of my cards and the ending of my own culture of borrowing and debt. It was a painful thing to decide to do, it was about facing up to my problems and it was about deciding that I did not want to spend every day worrying about how I would pay for things. I am now doing something that will make the debt I have at the end of this year less than that which I had at the end of last year. It will take my a few years to pay back, but I am learning again to live within my own means and actually I am pretty well paid and want to experience the full value of my own salary. I also want my teenage son to know that credit cards, while useful are not the only way to pay for the thing you want. My grandmother, who never had a penny of debt and whose birthday it would have been yesterday, would have been very proud of me.

The 5 week month

Unexpectedly I am experiencing the thing that those who are paid monthly and are not rich dread, the 5 week (that is 5 Thursdays) month. This is unexpected, because about a month ago we were all told that because of the installation and testing of a new payroll system, we would all be getting paid a week early. In anticipation of my trip abroad this was music to my ears. Today, I have a quarter of a tank of petrol, £4 in my purse and enough money in the bank for the cheque already written, the bill I need to pay in the next day or two plus a bit of petrol. So I was not best pleased to receive an email telling me it has all been a mistake and payday is in fact on Thursday 31st!!

My current employer ceases to exist on 30th September, and on 1st October I will be part of a whole new world of Primary Care Trusts circa 2006. A world of uncertainty awaits, but mean time we carry on regardless (as Beautiful South once sang). I am planning training, though we still have no budget for it (one day before the end of March someone will tell me how much is available), and we await our fate. This is likely to involve thereorganizationn of departments by new (orreorganizedd) directors and the need to reapply for our own jobs. If I were in charge I would abolish the 5 week month.

For the person who visits via the picture I once posted of a pink ford ka, I saw it again today. It is a lovely car, but it does clash with mine which is orange!

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