Dec 162012


Congratulations to William Hamilton who has become the 250th Member of the Sevenoaks District Seniors Action Forum.  Now, who will be the 500th?  Or even the 300th?  Help us grow with the application form on the back page of this edition of the newsletter.  Maybe your neighbour will join?  With 250 Members, people listen to us.  We have already given great new information to our politicians and the hospital authorities on transport to hospitals, begun to put pressure on the powers that be on blue badge parking, raised awareness of defibrillators and community first responders and helped to change the way hospital appointments are given to older people.  In this issue of the newsletter, there is some startling news on how our hospitals are complying with the law.  How much stronger will we be with 500 Members?


As our next newsletter will not be hitting your mat until 2013 then now is the time to wish you the compliments of the season.  Last year we asked if everyone could be a good neighbour during the winter.  This winter has definitely started!


Since the last newsletter went out, dozens of our Members will have had very satisfactory medical help from the hospitals that serve our District.  However, if you have to deal with hospital management …

On Blue Badge Parking…

The long running saga of trying to get information out of Darent Valley Hospital is nearly over – they won’t tell us anything.  Yes, it’s a public service paid for by you and me and all the rest of us, but no, they don’t want to tell us how much money they are going to make out of disabled people parking at the hospital.

Darent Valley decided to start charging for blue badge parking.  The justification given for the charge was to cover the work of developing a special car park for blue badge holders.  When we questioned the hospital on these issues we were left feeling that there was far more to this than meets the eye.  Indeed we felt that hospital managers were deliberately being obstructive.  This led to us asking for and getting a meeting in which we questioned Kevin Rowan, an Assistant Director at the hospital.  He seemed very helpful but we still could not get to the real information that we wanted – ‘Is the hospital making a profit out of blue badge parking and if so how much?’

It seems that the Hospital prefers to hide behind their contractual relationship with Vinci Park (which runs the car parks) so they have not responded with any hard information to our request on how much it has cost to extend the car park to boost the number of blue badge spaces available.

We are not going to be told what the income is.  That’s a pity as it means that we can only guess – so let’s guess.  Vinci Park is part of the huge Vinci construction group so it won’t have cost them much at all to do the building work.  Let’s be really generous and say £20,000.  At £1 per visit, this cost will therefore be covered in 20,000 visits.   If a space is used three times a day then the 57 spaces will generate £171 per day. With increased use at weekends, I would suggest that this could mean £1500 per week or £78,000 per year.  They will have started making a profit out of blue badge holders from about May of 2012.  By the end of the year they may have made over £40,000 profit.  Is the hospital serious when they tell us that The Trust does not expect to receive any income from this arrangement in 2012?  Honest!  If you owned that land and franchised out the car parking, wouldn’t you expect a return?

They seem to have blown a real opportunity to gain a profit and put it into patient care.

So although the hospital is a publically funded service, we cannot get at the information on how much profit the hospital is allowing Vinci Parks to earn from us and what the hospital’s share is.  There’s something really wrong here.  Where is the openness in public service that we are supposed to expect?

And then, quite accidentally, we stumbled over another problem…


In trying to get at the parking information, we stumbled across something else.  When SDSAF put in a Freedom of Information Request about the financial figures on parking, the hospital failed to comply with the law in that they did not respond in the given time.  We were shocked by this and asked the Information Commissioner how many complaints it had had about the hospital failing to comply with this law.  Their answer was ‘None’.  No one had complained to the Information Commissioner that the hospital had failed to reply in time.

So we asked the hospital for their figures.  They emailed us ’from the latest available data (covering the 2011/12 year), 225 of the 300 requests received were completed within the statutory deadline (75%)’.  In classic Press Office style, they told us how well they had complied with the law.  But they could have said that they failed to comply with the law in 25% of cases or that out of 300 requests, they failed to comply in one in of every four.  Any business (or Council for that matter) would collapse if they broke the law 25% of the time.  Is this the way our hospitals should be managed?

If none of these cases was referred to the Information Commissioner, should we be doing so?  And what about the other hospitals in our region?  Is this a local illness?  Or something of a general disease?


There are some concerns about Eurolocks.  They are the locks that we see these days on modern front and back doors.  If yours protrude like this, at left, then you may be advised to get them changed.  Apparently they are just too easy for the burglars!  This is an old design and can be replaced quite cheaply – the lock is not expensive but the fitting might cost you a bit. 

I am assured by my neighbour who fits these doors for a living that it’s an easy DIY job.  Put the key in the lock, undo the screw that holds the lock (it’s on the side edge of the door), turn the key slightly in the lock to pull the whole barrel out, push the new barrel in using its key and tighten the screw to hold it in place.  The new lock should protrude only a little as in the picture on the right.


Kent County Council has announced some changes to how their recycling plants now operate.  They will be introducing limitations on ‘certain materials’ and ‘ensuring that only household waste is accepted’ so that there will be ‘less queuing and less congestion’.  In my local yard, the only real queuing is caused by the contractors shutting everything down for 10 or 15 minutes whilst they do things.  Whilst they want to keep business people out of the domestic recycling facility, I sniff increased fly-tipping.  There will be a limit on the size of a trailer you can take in (2.05 metres or 6’8”, 35 cu ft capacity and no wider than the towing vehicle) and on the amount of hardcore that you can dump (therefore more fly-tipping).  Finally, a sack of asbestos (!) will cost you £5 to leave there as will two tyres.

It is illegal to dispose of waste from any business, trade, or commercial activity at these sites, as they are for household waste only.


I understand that parking will be free in Sevenoaks and Swanley on Saturdays 15 and 22 December to help with Christmas shopping in the Council’s car parks.  Sevenoaks Leisure Centre will also be included in this free parking.  Time limits will still apply.


With the economy in the state it is in, what we need is some creative thinking.  So, the local rail franchise is up for grabs from March 2014 – now wouldn’t it be good if our local politicians pressed for concessionary rail travel for Kent pensioners to go with our endangered bus passes?  The train companies with their profits can afford it even if the County Council says that it can’t.  Perhaps KCC could if the Government sorted out Fixing a Broken System on the next page.


Merilyn Canet reports; she attended a Kent LINk meeting on 29 November (Kent LINk is an organisation that links people or groups with an interest in health matters – like us).  They have been talking to the hospital at Pembury about transport (but not telling other people).  There is going to be a twice hourly bus service from Tonbridge station, not on Sundays.  It is proving a challenge to get action on this issue!  The people with the power to make decisions aren’t disabled, carless or very elderly.  Voluntary car services are overwhelmed with demand. They need more drivers and money to fund costs.  Cllr Mrs Dawson who is Chairman of the SDC Access group is disabled, carless and so does understand but she has been ill for some time and is awaiting an operation, so progress on the Access Group is suspended at present.  Any examples from our Members of transport to health services difficulties are welcomed.  Merilyn Canet.


Members may be aware that our local MP, Michael Fallon, is now the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise – surely an extremely important job in these economic days.  Michael’s portfolio includes business sectors, small business, deregulation, economic development, Royal Mail, and much more.


The Councils in the South East have published this document and it details the unfairness of the way central Government dishes out grant monies to councils round the country.  We have already highlighted to Members that London Boroughs get far more per person that we get in Kent and of course Bexley and Bromley are two of our neighbours in Sevenoaks District.  Your neighbour across the border in Bexley or Bromley is much better supported than we are.  Fixing a Broken System is the response from the South East England Councils and a copy can be seen on the web at or call 020 8541 7555.  It is a very good read even at 17 pages!


Geoff Parsons tells me that; the “SDSAF Project Defibrillator continues albeit slowly! Hands have been relatively slow to help with the oars. Nevertheless some progress is apparent in the wider context;

  • There are now several prospective groups wanting an automated external defibrillator (AED) or a public access defibrillator (PAD) in their areas;
  • Support for Community First Responders (CFR) continues, e.g. a local charity is raising funds for equipment and training, and a trainee CFR has been appointed to cover Farningham, Eynsford, and Swanley Village;
  • A Patient Participation Group is likely to get an AED in due course;
  • The SDSAF Directory (of where defibrillators are located) is being updated.”

If you want more information on this project, there is a lot of information on our website or talk to Geoff via the contact details in this newsletter.  He’d be happy to talk to you especially if you would like to help!


This very useful four inch high container sits in the fridge.  The idea is that you put your medical details into it and pop it in the cold.  No, it doesn’t actually need keeping cool but in an emergency, that’s where the police or ambulance crew will look for one of these.  They will understand your medical conditions by looking into the box and if you can’t tell them, the contents of the box will!

If you would like one, call Alan or Chris Walter on 01732 461255.  They tell me they have plenty to give away.


How important ‘Three Little Words’ can be, in this case, nothing to do with the heart, just cold callers on the phone.  All the advice is not to get annoyed but instead to play tactics!  Say ‘Hold On, Please…’, quietly put the phone down, and walk away for five minutes.  When you hear ‘beep, beep, beep’ you know it’s time to go back and hang up your handset. You’ve done your job.  If everyone did that then telephone marketing would become pointless.

I’ve just had a call from someone calling themselves The Energy Care Trust and claiming to be a government backed organisation.  They were offering all kinds of things to reduce my energy bills.  I asked them for their telephone number.  They gave me a number that doesn’t exist.  When I asked for their address, the line went dead.  They have bad publicity on the web.  Be careful.

The Telephone Preference Service is, on the whole, pretty good at stopping these calls but they can’t stop them all.  UK companies sometimes deliberately use foreign call centres to get round British law.  Who would want to use a British company who did that!  Register with the TPS online or on 0845 070 070 7.

The Mail Preference Service is very good at reducing junk mail through the letter box (also on 0845 070 070 7).  Junk mail through my letterbox has almost dried up – it’s now the Post Office itself that is the biggest culprit.


John Arnold (centre) of Rural Age Concern Darent Valley met with SDSAF Committee Members Roger Bryan (left), Geoff Parsons (right) and Frank McConnell in November to discuss areas of mutual interest.  We had a couple of hours together which was helpful all round as it is very important that organisations that work for people over 50 coordinate their efforts and do not get in each other’s way.  SDSAF works as a communicator of information and as a campaigning group.  We don’t provide the excellent services that Age UK and Rural Age Concern Darent Valley provide.  Also we don’t provide the very welcome regular social gatherings that many groups cater for.  John Arnold and your committee colleagues were in agreement that people over 50 need a strong voice when talking with politicians at every level.  We can provide that strong voice when we work together and when our numbers are big enough for the decision makers to sit up and take notice.  With 250 Members we have come to the right size, with 500 Members, we’d be even stronger.  Do you have friends who are not yet Members?  There is an application form on the back page of this edition.  Help!


Members who have blue badges will know that KCC has upped their price for renewing them to £10.  The forms to be filled in are available from KCC or on the web.  They look far more complicated than they used to be.


Independent candidate Ann Barnes has been elected as Kent’s first Police and Crime Commissioner saying she wants to be the “most visible and accessible PCC in the UK” (BBC News Kent) so SDSAF has invited to speak at one of our meetings.  We await her response.  Ms Barnes received 65.5% of the vote after the second round, having had 46.8% of first preferences (almost double her nearest rival).


Late news has come in that the merger plan of the two hospitals has now been sent for assessment and agreement to higher authorities.  More details next time and soon on our website


Be a good neighbour this winter.

Do you have a neighbour who may need a little help?


From December 23rd, the days get longer and we head for the Spring!

Newsletter 9 June 2012

 Welcome  Comments Off
Dec 162012


The AGM was held on 11th May 2012 and our MP, Michael Fallon, spoke briefly on ‘What the Government is Doing for Seniors’.  Mary Baker of DropBy talked about her website and Merilyn Canet updated the Transport to Hospital campaign which certainly interested our MP.   

The MP was asked about the over 60s free travel pass and the imbalance between what we are allowed in Sevenoaks and what our neighbours in London are given.  Mr Fallon remarked on London’s ‘particular difficulties’ giving no indication that Parliament would be looking to change the situation.   


SDSAF Member Diana Beamish writes… I have asked Mr Fallon to raise the concerns with KCC, and have also written to my KCC councillor, Roger Gough (Darent Valley), who is looking into the matter – I shall continue to press the issue.  Diana sent SDSAF newspaper clippings on this and if you would like to see these please contact us.  She has made suggestions to the MP on how better transport concessions in Kent could be funded, remarking on anomalies in taxation which could be tidied up to produce the necessary resources.  Londoners obviously value their freedom passes very highly (one Bexley resident told me she would like to live in Sevenoaks but could not give up her London Freedom Pass) and whilst we in Kent almost certainly value what we have, we don’t have much in comparison. 

Diana tells that the subject came up at the Annual Council Meeting of the West Kent Federation of Women’s Institutes in March this year with obvious discontent but there seems to be no political will in Kent to do anything about improving this situation.  Even at a time of financial difficulty things can be done.  If you would like to join Diana in her campaign, please get in touch with us and we will make the connection.

I was editing another newsletter when London won the right to host THE Games.  I had the temerity to use the O****** Rings as an illustration.  I was soundly told off for this and ordered to remove the illustration as it was not authorised.  Oops.  So, not wishing to repeat my mistake, I should explain my wife and I visited a garden centre last week, and did not understand what our 2 year old grand-daughter meant by asking for a wriggle wriggle (and wriggling!).  All was revealed when, inside, she pointed at five specifically coloured hula hoops linked and arranged in the window.  I don’t imagine that the owners had applied in triplicate for permission to do this so they will be nameless but it reminded me to put an item into this newsletter that the Wriggle Wriggle Torch comes to the Sevenoaks District on Friday 20th July passing through Seal, Bat and Ball, St John’s Hill, London Road, Riverhead and Bessels Green.  A once in a lifetime experience?  And one that I dare not illustrate!  Precise route at or call Sevenoaks Council on 01732 227000.

The Paralympic Cycling Road Races take place at and around Brands Hatch between 5 and 8 September with great views (and road closures) – another once in a lifetime opportunity!  More details on or call 01732 227000.


We now have 236 members – 122 with email, 114 postal.  If new Members have not received Newsletter 8, please contact Roger and we will send you a copy.  Do any of your neighbours need to join us?  The bigger we are, the more we can do.


Whilst I am falling out of love with Money Saving Expert now that it has been sold to a commercial group, they still carry good advice including, this week, How To Use Less Petrol And Diesel.  Suggestions include, declutter the car so that you are not carrying excess weight, keep tyres at the right inflation, remove the roof rack when you are not using it (must do that today), use AirCon only when you really need it (but give it an occasional blow through), fuel is heavy so think about when you fill up, drive with a light foot, accelerate gradually, slow naturally rather than on the brakes every time.  Got all that?    


Sevenoaks District Council has offered the opportunity for residents to have free first aid training in basic survival, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the automated external defibrillator (AED).  This will be important if the numbers of public access defibrillators (PADs) in our communities increases.  It will be desirable to have local residents who in an emergency are able to use any nearby defibrillator with confidence.  Interest in developing the availability of these machines is growing, I see that the Caravan Club is soon to supply its sites with AEDs.  People trained in their use, including CFRs – Community First Responders – receive a phone alert when someone has a problem as they can often be at the scene even before the ambulance crews.  There’s even an app being developed for the iPhone.  (If that sentence means nothing to you, I apologise for sinking into the language of my grown-up children).  


If two or more Members would like to get something done then SDSAF would like to help them by growing their group and putting the weight of our membership behind their idea.  We would like to see Special Interest Groups growing round the District.  SDSAF would be happy to support and advise these groups on how they might deal with the problem that they are focussing on and publicise their success.

We also hear from Members that we might need some Local Groups who can put the weight of SDSAF behind something in their town or village.  Is this of interest to you?


I’m not sure I know but I use it all the time.  I don’t know how my car works either but I drive it regularly!  If you would like to learn how to get online and use computers for the internet and email, we may be able to help you.  SDSAF is offering free computer buddy sessions where a Member who knows how it’s done helps out someone who is new to the whole thing.  For further information, contact Roger on 01322 664754. 


HMRC, or what I used to call the taxman, has issued a warning that con men are scamming people by calling them up or emailing them about tax credits.  It’s the usual thing, they ask you for your credit card numbers and that kind of thing promising a rebate and they take all your money.  If you have access to the internet, there are pages of advice on scams.  Age UK’s site is good and they have a free guide to download.  The Met Police have their excellent Little Book of BIG Scams.


I’ve mentioned this before in the newsletter but a last reminder before the main holiday season seemed sensible.  The EHIC, or European Health Insurance Card, doesn’t cost a penny and it can get you free or discounted medical care in all 27 EU countries, plus a few others.  Nearly four million of these cards will expire in 2012 so if you have one urgently check yours before you go abroad. If you haven’t got one, it really would be wise to have one but remember it is entirely free of charge and if someone asks you to pay for one it’s a con.  EHICs are available online from ‘agencies’ who will charge you money and from the real people, for free, at Search for EHIC or call 0845 606 2030.


Gransnet had an interesting article on their website recently about starting a business.  I found myself thinking ‘Why not?’  Oh yes, I’m supposed to be retired.  But you know there might be some mileage in it!  Equally, many of our Members are or have been very successful in their working lives and many still are.  There’s a huge need for mentors.  Gransnet is an internet organisation so their helpful ideas need to be read on screen.  They don’t do printed newsletters.


Steve Plater tells me that he went to this show at Olympia (nothing to do with the wriggles) last year and found it very good.  Sponsored by the Pru, it will cost £10 per person on the door but if you can register on the web, it’s free.  Sorry, there doesn’t seem to be a postal or telephone method. The event runs from Thursday 12 July to Saturday 14 July.


News of problems for the hospitals in the Sidcup and Orpington areas is a reminder of the rationale expressed by Gerard Sammon when he talked to members recently about the merger of Darent Valley and Medway hospitals trusts.  Finance rather than medicine may have become the first focus of the NHS but at times of major upheaval it becomes even more important that the NHS, which we pay for, needs to keep we patients properly informed over what is really happening.  They must be open and straight forward about what they tell us.  In Newsletter 7, we mentioned that the Darent Valley Hospital had issued a press release that they would be charging a ‘nominal fee’ of £1 per visit for blue badge parking (I suggested to them that a pensioner who had to visit every day would soon find that ‘nominal fee’ very expensive).  The revenue would be used ‘to enhance the parking facilities’.  An extra 38 spaces would be added to make 60 blue badge spaces.  When asked would the charge be dropped when the developments were paid for, we were stone-walled.  When heavily pressed, they responded that parking was not their responsibility as the car parks are run by Vinci Park.  Vinci Park would pay out all the money for the improvements and would take all the income.  That begs the question as to why it was the hospital that issued the Press Release – if they have no part in the responsibility for the change, why did they announce it?  If it’s none of their business, then it’s none of their business.  When further pressed, they told us to go for a Freedom of Information request.  A public service that we pay for!  And one that they want us to support.  Wouldn’t it have been nice if they had simply told us the truth instead of obstructively suggesting that we resort to the Freedom of Information Act?  My reading of those regulations is that the information should automatically have been provided on request.  The end product by the way is not 60 spaces, it’s 45, 25% fewer than promised and a charge on top.

The Press Office for Vinci Park did say they would call me back with their view… 


PARTING SHOT – The 2012 Euro Football Championship

Croatian FA fined £65,000 for racist chanting from their fans.

Danish footballer fined £80,000 for wearing The Wrong Trousers (well pants anyway).


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