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Southport Reporter®

Edition No. 112

Date:- 16 August 2003

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"Bill Blunders not innocent!"
  • 18,900 Southport Homes incorrectly billed 

  • Southport resident 'mortified' to face £1,000 Debt

  • John Pugh MP Backs Better Billing Campaign and calls for an end to the billing blunders 

CONSUMERS ARE being warned "check your energy bill or pay the price"

New research suggests that nearly 19,000 Southport householders may have received an inaccurate estimated bill from their energy company. 

An NOP opinion poll carried out for Energywatch, the gas and electricity consumer watchdog, also found that nearly one in two Southport consumers (48%) do not check their bills.

Southport consumer, Angela Fitton is just one of the thousand of Southport consumers affected. Ms Fitton who has always paid the direct debits at the level set by TXU Energy (now Powergen) found herself £1,000 in debt after the company had failed to read her gas meter for three years. This is despite an obligation on the company to inspect each meter every two years. 

Ms Fitton said:- "I thought it was totally unfair and am convinced that it is the company's responsibility to their customers to not let this happen"

Ms Fitton has had to have a card meter installed and on top of her regular monthly payments for the energy she uses, will be paying the debt off for £12 a week for several years. 

Southport's Liberal Democrat MP, John Pugh, has written to the regulator Ofgem to raise this matter and called for an end to the billing blunders. 

"This scale of mis-billing is not some innocent oversight,"
says John Pugh MP, "Billing is a serious requirement of the energy companies which they can not be allowed to ignore." 

David Sidebottom, Regional Director of consumer watchdog, Energywatch North West, said:- "Southport's a great place to visit, but clearly this is not a view held by some Powergen meter readers who have not visited Ms Fitton's meter for three years. What's worse is that this is not an isolated incident. We've received thousands of similar complaints about other energy companies who appear incapable of correctly billing their consumers."

Sidebottom urged consumers to check their bills:- "Local consumers trust their energy companies to get their bills right. Sadly, it appears that this trust is frequently misplaced. Until the energy companies can produce accurate bills, consumers should check their bills or risk paying the price." 

The energy watchdog's 'Bad Bill Buster' - a checklist to help consumers avoid pitfalls, such as debt, caused by the billing blunders of power companies. It offers practical advice to consumers to prevent billing problems or what to do if they receive an incorrect energy bill. The watchdog is also offering a guide to the billing performance of companies. 

Commenting on the Companies' performances in the billing 'league table,' Sidebottom said:- "Sadly, they're all fairly dire. The difference between the top and the bottom is that the top are just bad billers, where as those at the bottom are atrocious. Customers have a basic right to receive an energy bill that is accurate, on-time and easy to understand and the energy companies need to start respecting this right by delivering better bills." 

Energywatch North West's Better Billing Campaign wants energy companies to deliver improved bills. Energywatch North West is calling for:- 

1 energy companies to read meters more often

2 the more accurate recording of meter-readings provided by consumers

3 incentives from energy companies to encourage their customers to provide meter readings rather than rely on estimates. 

Sidebottom added:- "We also want the energy companies to offer adequate compensation for the distress and inconvenience these billing blunders can cause." 

John Pugh MP backs this move saying "I shall be asking for cross-party support from my colleagues on this issue when Parliament reconvenes".

The top-ten tips for consumers are:-

1. Check if your bill is based on an estimated meter reading. If it is, read your meter and give the reading to your supplier if it is different.

2. If you think you have received an inaccurate bill take your own meter reading and give it to your supplier, asking them for an amended bill.

3. If you are unclear about your bill ask your supplier to explain it to you.

4. If you have not received a bill for over six months, ask your supplier to issue one. You will have to pay for the energy that you have used.

5. If your supplier makes a mistake and you face a large catch-up bill, ask for the total sum to be reduced. 

6. Also ask for time to pay it off gradually. For example, if you have not been billed for six months, ask for six months to pay off the agreed balance.

7. Remember - your supplier must take into account your ability to pay. Any repayments must be affordable to you.

8. Remember - always keep a record of your contact with your supplier.

9. Remember - your supplier is obliged to inspect your meter every two years, for safety reasons.

10. If you are unhappy with the response your supplier provides to a billing problem, or any other energy issue, contact Energywatch on:- 08459 060708.

Consumers can find Billing Compare and the "Bad Bill Buster" checklist on-line at www.energywatch.org.uk or can obtain a copy by calling Energywatch on 0845 9060708.

Cancer services at the Trust are praised in special booklet
Report with thanks to Nicky Williams at Healthstart.

CANCER specialists at Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust have received special recognition for the work they do to provide support and quality of care to their patients. 

The Trust's cancer services team have been praised within the Department of Health's Sharing of Good Practice

booklet and its systems have also been used as a shining example to other health experts.  It comes following on from a successful peer review appraisal visit earlier this year, when the department had an intrathecal chemotherapy peer review assessment. 

This was very successful - and the result was the Trust's inclusion in the Sharing of Good Practice handbook.

It means that other health professionals can access the booklet and read up on the Trust's safe administration of intrathecal chemotherapy and find out why the cancer department's training was highly commended in this particular area. 

Christine Sheridan, the Trust's Cancer Services Manager, said:- "It's nice to know that what we are doing within cancer services is achieving positive results and it is an honour to know that our systems have been highlighted as an example to other Trusts."

This is just one of the many success stories within the Trust's cancer services department.

National Cancer Services Appraisal and Targets………

The National Cancer Services Appraisal peer review visit - which involved visiting the cancer care team, looking around the accommodation and a compilation of detailed portfolios of evidence - concluded that the overall organisation of the Southport and Ormskirk's cancer unit merited praise. Also singled out were palliative care, the cancer awareness sessions and the dedicated clinical psychology sessions.

The cancer unit's consistently high standards are highlighted through achieving stringent Government targets in life-saving issues of waiting time, where a 100 per cent success was achieved in all cancer specialities.

This means that the Trust kept entirely within the guidelines, which say that patients suspected by their GP to be suffering from cancer should wait no more than two weeks to be seen by a specialist.

Other key targets met with a perfect 100 per cent score were referral to treatment and diagnosis to treatment times, even though the patient workload had increased by 23 per cent year on year.

Christine said:- "These are particularly challenging targets to meet. But the staff work hard to achieve consistently high rates. I'm proud that we continue to meet the guidelines and intend to build on this success."

The Trust, along with others across the country, will face even tougher challenges set by the Government over the next two years. New targets will include every patient diagnosed with cancer will benefit from pre-planned and pre-booked care by 2004.

However, Christine is confident that these new targets will be met and has already made progress in this area.

She said:- "At the moment, one of the problems for cancer patients is the 'not knowing' what is going to happen next. These new targets will ensure that all patients will have dates straightway so they know how their individual treatment will be mapped out. However, at the Trust, we are already doing this to an extent. Our nurses usually sit in with the patient and are able to give them dates for their next visit to ease their mind. In addition, we have other plans in place to meet pre-booking targets."

National Cancer Patient Survey…

The results of the National Cancer Patient Survey, which were released during the year, also show that the Trust is performing especially well in breast cancer care too, with scores matching or excelling the national average in 53 out of 62 criteria.

Prostate cancer treatment, also, proved to be a successful area for Southport and Ormskirk, with scores equalling or out-performing the national average in 32 criteria. Performance was consistently better in the areas of discharge and outpatients.

As well as being a comparative measure of performance against the other hospital Trusts, the Survey is a useful tool in pinpointing areas that might benefit from improvement. 

Several other positive changes have been implemented during the year, including:-

· Rapid access, lung, colo-rectal and urology clinics
· Recruitment of additional cancer nurse specialists
· Securing of funding for specialist nurse-led cancer and follow-up clinics.
· Replacement CT scanners on both hospital sites and more funding for MRI scanning, mammography and testicular ultrasound.
· The development of breast cancer family history clinics, with screening, advice and support from specialist breast care nurses.

And other positive improvements in cancer care…

Other highlights of the year in cancer care were:-

· Obtaining funding for a second lung cancer nurse specialist and the starting up of rapid access lung clinics.
· A training programme for nurses to take on endoscopy work.
· The opening of a new genetics clinic in Ormskirk, in addition to the existing service at Southport.
· The appointment of a research nurse to co-ordinate oncology clinical trials and recruit patient participants.
· A joint appointment for a new medical oncologist, with Clatterbridge Hospital. This will enable even more patients to receive chemotherapy locally, rather than travelling to Clatterbridge 
· Funding for multi-disciplinary team co-ordinators for tumour groups, to co-ordinate, keep records and document outcomes.
· The appointment of a service improvement facilitator for the Cancer Collaborative Service Improvement Partnership.
· The setting up of a cancer website which will operate as an intranet service and also offer access for GPs and and all NHS personnel.
· A joint appointment between the Hospital Trust and the Southport and Formby PCT of a lymphoedema specialist nurse, who took up her post last month (July).
· Launching an electronic referral service for urgent cases of suspected cancer, involving the use of e-mail by GPs.

Christine ended:- "I am delighted with all our achievements so far this year, but I must give special thanks to all staff who are involved in cancer care. Their dedication, hard work and commitment allow us to provide a service to our patients that we can be proud of.

We want to build on our success and carry on providing the best quality service to our patients because they are the reason why we want to maintain such high standards."

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