Their concerted drive appeared to have had some success. But by April 2004 - within six months of the estimated start of that drive for the recruitment of volunteers for PPI forums - six hundred and sixty two of those recruited volunteers had resigned (Steve Hilton for CPPIH 28.04.04.).
By February 2005, the number of resignations from PPI forums had risen to one thousand three hundred and thirty three. By October of the same year, resignations were at two thousand two hundred and forty eight. And at that same time there were one hundred and forty six PPI forums with less than seven members. (information from CPPIH in responses to my Freedom of Information Act requests).
Whatever else these facts tell us, for me they shout out that the recruitment and retention of volunteers is critically difficult and unless those people who give their time, energy and goodwill free of charge are treated in a fair and civilised manner under good working conditions, projects such as LINks which rely on volunteers will never work consistently and effectively.
One of the advantages we have is the temporal proximity of what happened then. And we have relatively easy access to learning from it and applying the lessons to LINks. I, amongst others (the work of the late Janet Albu, for instance and the annals of http://www.ppif.org.uk) had many concerns about the policies and practices then extant. I summarised some of the problems in my “Year of the Volunteer” (2005) correspondence with UNISON:
“...CPPIH also have a raw deal for their volunteers in that they operate a disciplinary process, borrowed from the world of paid work, in which the volunteers have no rights of independent defence, no independent body (such as a trade union) to represent them, and no means of independent appeal. Paid workers have contractual rights, trade union help, advice, support and representation, and the right to refer to an employment tribunal. Volunteers have nothing.
Worse, organisations like CPPIH that use and rely on (and indeed exploit) volunteers are not in any practicable sense answerable for their incompetence and maltreatment of volunteers because they are Quangos. CPPIH will say people can refer to their "parent body", the Department of Health and to the Secretary of State but all that happens when this is tried is the matter referred back to CPPIH for attention! CPPIH will also point out that ultimately a complaint can be made to the Parliamentary Commissioner - but here's the catch 22: the Parliamentary Commissioner cannot deal with "personnel matters" and CPPIH volunteers come under "personnel matters".”
There is some encouragement though. It is indicated by the carefully non-specific text of LINks Guide, 13 - Volunteers (is that a sick joke - an analogy with Ward 13?) that many of the lessons may have been learned. But this is bad: That document says “...consider (my emboldening) including equal opportunities and diversity; selection; induction training; recognition and reward; support and supervision; insurance; health and safety; CRB checks; and problem solving procedures.” There is no consideration about it - all those elements are basic necessities!
For example, the Health and Safety Executive says: “...the same health and safety standards should be applied to voluntary workers as they would to employees exposed to the same risks. However, if the risk assessment shows that the risks to voluntary workers are different, the preventive and protective measures taken should reflect the different risks. (http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/faqs/charities.htm)
The other snag with LINks Guide 13 is that it is a ‘top down’ document. That is, it is compiled (largely) by people employed by the bodies that use volunteers. To have any real credibility, such guidelines need to be written by the volunteers themselves - those service users who populate the voluntary activities of patient and public involvement in health. For this and allied principles, there are now well established precedents fully recognised in prescient organisations: For example, the Health and Care Advisory Service (HASCAS) in it’s April 2005 commissioned report ”Making a Real Difference - Strengthening Service User and Carer Involvement in NIMHE“ (National Institute for Mental Health in England) said: ”A positive organisational culture...Measures to develop this culture include service user and carer-focussed leadership, involvement in governance arrangements, staff development, employment of service users and carers, setting out to secure diversity, resources to make it happen and regularly monitoring and reviewing the impact of what has been put in place.“
And, of course, one of the great strengths of the LINks, as contrasted with the CPPIH model is that it allows room for all this to happen.
There is though, one aspect of voluntary work which remains hazardous for any individual volunteer who finds themselves needing to express their conscience. An aspect which, despite all the other lessons learnt in the past three years, no-one seems to be addressing. In the early 1990’s the then new organisations Freedom to Care (http://www.freedomtocare.org) and Public Concern at Work (http://www.pcaw.co.uk) campaigned hard with eventual partial success to get the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 pushed through Parliament. This Act established some protections for employees who had previously suffered serious disadvantage and punishment because they had publicly revealed their concerns about malpractices in their places of employment: ”Whistleblowers.“
Of course, LINks members are all ‘whistleblowers’ by definition and mandated to perform the functions of ‘whistleblower’ in health and social care. However, lessons from the CPPIH era tell us there are occasions
when a volunteer needs to express public concerns about the very organisations under whose aegis they work. There was for example, a forum member here (not I) who tried to point out that a chair of a local forum should not be a member because she was barred from membership by the statutory regulations. That whistleblower was pilloried and compelled to resign with much damage to his self esteem and reputation. The details cannot be given here but for a fuller account see: http://www.ppeyes.org.uk/ppeyesdossier.html 90, 103, 111, 146/7, 156/8 179, 182, 185, 187, 191 to 210, 207, 217, 281 and 292.).