If you want to get more people responding to your consultations, go to where your audience is.

For example where people are waiting for something…like their vaccinations for CV19. (Or bus stops. Or GP waiting rooms.

Probably not very busy places like Accident & Emergency Units – I found myself in Addenbrooke’s again after a severe allergic reaction the like of which I’d never had before.

…with paramedics taking me to A&E as a precaution having given me an injection of a strong antihistamine – stronger than the stuff I take for hayfever. After an hour or so I got seen by a consultant who gave me a quick examination and said: “Go home – you don’t wanna be here.” Clearly the injection had worked, and didn’t notice much from it this morning. I was also acutely aware of how busy the unit was that afternoon.

Time to ask questions of healthcare staff about what their working conditions are like

…which is what I did the last time I was in A&E – only that time it was for a suspected heart attack that the medics think was caused by a virus as exploratory surgery showed clear arteries. When you’re waiting for stuff there’s little else to do.

Everyone knows (or should know) how over-stretched our health and care services are. And underfunded – for which blame lies with the ministers and MPs that pass the budgets on their spending plans. Looking at the MPs for South Cambridgeshire & South East Cambridgeshire in particular. So when I saw the plaque commemorating the refurbishment of A&E, I noticed it was from 20 years ago.

For those of you wondering, have a look at Cambridge’s population here. Then remember that Addenbrooke’s service not just city and county, but also region and for some specialist services, nationwide. Yet thinking about those closest to the hospital, the population of Cambridge has already risen to the extent that the Boundary Commission says Cambridgeshire needs another parliamentary constituency to represent us all. So…isn’t Addenbrooke’s long overdue an expansion to its A&E unit given that the city’s population will have expanded by at least 20,000 people since 2001? (It rose from 108k to 123k between 2001-2011, so chances are it will have risen even more when we find out in the next six months when Census 2021 headline figures are released).

Is it possible to reduce demand on services in the face of a rising population?

It might be – just not in the way Conservative ministers think it can be. One way you can reduce demand on services is to make people think they are not entitled to them. Fewer claimants means fewer payouts, doesn’t it? Make people feel guilty about claiming for things they are entitled to. Which is why the discourse on privileges vs rights is going down a dangerous path. Especially if you look like me.

As it turns out, the paramedics told me that in their experience, it was major public health education campaigns that could make a big difference. (Something that Conservatives have swung the public spending axe at – with huge consequences for the North of England). They told me that often it was older generations who were not calling ambulances when they really needed to, and that it was younger generations who were dialling 999 when they did not. What chimed with me was their call for better public education. Not posters or awareness-raising, but education where individually and collectively we become more knowledgeable about our own bodies and how they function. I’m part of the Section 28 generation where ministers of both state and churches thought it better that we were kept in ignorance. The same principle applies to how our political system functions (and malfunctions – hence these recommendations from the Institute for Government). I’ve lost count of the number of young people and organisations that work with them who have called on substantial improvements on the teaching of politics and government in schools – not least making it mandatory.

Taking local history and ‘small p’ politics to the people – including consultations and notices

Cllr Sam Davies MBE complained about this in the face of ongoing failures to get more people involved in local council area committees. It’s an issue I’ve discussed at various points over the past decade – see this from 2013 highlighting some of the barriers. To be fair to civic society, a couple of years later they stepped up to the plate and organised over 30 general election hustings in what was the tightest contest in Cambridge since the granting of the universal adult suffrage in 1928. I wrote this in 2016 on how the people & institutions of our city could communicate with each other.

Earlier today while sat in the extended observation area for those of us who might have reactions to the CV19 vaccination, I noted this.

Speaking to the staff, the vaccination booths had A14 pictures drawn by nursery and infant school children stuck on the walls. They said lovely as they were, it would be nice to have some big posters and pictures in as well. It’s not like Cambridge doesn’t have a few stored away.

Above – at the Museum of Cambridge, Alice Wroe, Emma Smith, Cllr Hilary Cox-Codron (Labour – Arbury) and me. With posters produced by Tamsin Wilmhurst now of the David Parr House, featuring six heroes who modernised Cambridge in poster board form. They are still there at the Museum. Could we bring them down and display them at the vaccination centre at The Grafton?

Poster boards for our local plan and local transport & connectivity plan

The same principle applies here: You have lots of people queuing and waiting, so why not put up some poster boards of the proposals that have been published by:

The more pictures the better – rather than a wall of small text. QR codes, website addresses, even “photograph me and search when you get home!” messages on posters – anything reasonable that will get people engaged and wanting to send in an informed response. Even something that invites people to have a conversation with local ward councillors.

After our vaccinations most people were asked to wait for at least 10 minutes before heading off. Most just sat there. Others had phones & magazines to distract them. Would having spaced-apart large notice boards in large print (so people don’t stand too close together) at least inform people 1) that the councils & organisations exist, and 2) that they are soliciting their views and experiences, get more informed responses? Because the numbers that were coming through today were not small. And such a move may get things far beyond the familiar people & organisations that respond?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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