The meeting was aimed at covering two main topics: host procurement and interim arrangements for LINks. Overall I think the meeting was well conducted with the bulk of the time allowing the attendees to speak rather than being spoken at (although there were some essential bits for this), and requests for a real ‘bottom up’ consultation. I left with some concern that the majority of people attending were existing PPI Forum members. I suppose this is only natural as forum members are the people who are most conscious of the issues around patient and public involvement in health. However, LINks are a somewhat different concept and it was obvious from the comments and questions from the floor that there is something of an embedded culture here and an expectation that PPI Forums will just continue with a change of name.
I missed most of the procurement session in the morning but got there in time to realise that the “procurement team,” at the meeting at least, comprised Norfolk CC Head of Procurement and a man from the private sector, Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation (I wonder how much of the £10,000 allocated by the Government for LINks preparation went in this direction rather than social inclusion?).
I was also there in time to hear the man from ESPO state something to the effect that: “we will not clutter up the host’s contract with things like health and safety requirements as that could take their eye off the ball.” I said as a sometime UNISON representative I was rather surprised to hear this and did he consider matters such as rural proofing and observance of the Disability Equality Duty would also “take their eye off the ball.” He did then say they would include all things embedded in County Council policy but I didn’t like his commercial business attitude dismissive of such considerations. Unsure of being able to trust what is said by this private sector intervention I have asked if I can have a copy of the draft contract which, he said, is to go before the European Union this Friday for approval.
The interim LINks arrangements session was taken up by a genuine debate about how best to form a core group of about 15 - 20 people to plan how LINks would operate in Norfolk. To his credit, David Hayman, the LINks Lead for Norfolk CC told the meeting he wanted our open and free suggestions about how to do this rather that prescribe top-down frameworks for consultation. David got quite a volume of these which he noted without coming to any conclusions at this point. Again, my own concerns are around the majority of responses coming from existing PPI Forum members and centering on existing forum culture, such as essentials being knowledge of healthcare. I did put in my own farthingsworth that rural exclusion and geographical issues needed to take some priority but I don’t think much notice will be taken of this. I left with the feeling that the future will, sadly but inevitably , be PPI Forums under a different name.