Wednesday, 1 April 2009
At the end of last year I posted an appeal on my Mesomoco blog (http://net.mesomoco.org.uk/mikecox/weblog). I said:
“ ...real activities in LINks are accelerating and I want to, once again, shout from the mountain tops (difficult in Norfolk!) that the system offers wonderful opportunities for service users and carers of all flavours and breeds - opportunities we have been fighting for for the last thirty to forty years.
Real service user and carer involvement and influence is now making a tangible difference and in the latter part of 2008, facilities have begun to mushroom around the concept of the user as an equal expert in her/his own right in heath and social care....So, you lot. Get out and join your LINks - you can make a vast difference to service delivery, deficiences in service, inadequate practice and malpractice - IN THE NHS AND IN SOCIAL SERVICES.”
I regret though, after praising it on PPlog (07.11.08), here in Norfolk we’ve now gone into 3D - Disappointment, Disillusion, Disaffection.
For the last 5 months we (ordinary LINks members) had been working well together in our various groups and coming up with several positive initiatives. However, what we were constantly told is that: a) we can do nothing without it going through the host; and b) all initiatives have to be put before the ‘Strategy Group’ and approved by them before any activities are carried out. So what it transpired we have is what is a virtual twelve person Star Chamber lauding it over all of Norfolk while their lackeys await their directives!!!!
So how did this system arise?
The statutory requirement in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health 2007 Act was that LINks were to be established in every local authority area in England by April 1st 2008. Each local authority was given £10,000 for making arrangements to PREPARE for the establishment of LINks.
Norfolk County Council’s preparatory arrangements were, in my opinion, abysmal and in breach of their published Disability Equality Duty. My Freedom of Information Act request brought the information that: “£6,175 was spent on two large public consultation events in January and February 2008. £5000 was spent on support provided from the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation in the procurement process, at the events, in drafting documents including the interim contract.” (See PPlog 12.07.08.)
For details of the preparatory debacle and its results, see my PPlog entries for: 30.11.07.; 20.02.08.; 27.02.08.; 06.03.08.; 30.04.08.; 12.05.08.; 16.05.08.; 02.06.08.; 08.06.08.; 15.06.08.; 27.06.08.; 07.07.08.; 12.07.08.; 07.11.08.; and 09.12.08. In brief, what they did was organise those “two large public consultation events” which were largely only known to people ‘in the loop’ - that meant existing members of PPI forums. Then, largely by default ‘in secret,’ certainly as far as I was concerned, an interim strategy group was formed, largely from those existing PPI forum members who, in what was really a token election, were all voted back in by default last month.
That ‘interim strategy group’ made the rules which, it is decreed, can only be changed by the current strategy group. their documentation says:
“Remit of the Strategy Group
The Strategy Group is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the LINk by:
• setting the priorities for the work of the LINk within the work plan
• agreeing the terms of reference of working groups
• allocating the resources to deliver the work plan
• monitoring the delivery of the work plan
• managing the performance of the LINk by setting goals and targets and evaluating delivery against them
• preparing and submitting an Annual Report in accordance with Section 227. of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act, 2007
It will liaise with:
• Norfolk County Council's named representatives
• the chairmen (sic), chief executives and senior managers of the health trusts and adult social services operating in the area covered by the LINk
• the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee(s)
• the Strategic Health Authority
• the Care Quality Commission
• other LiNks (sic) as required
The Strategy Group will:
• ensure that the LINk meets its legislative obligations
• maintain and review the LiNk's governance arrangements
• monitor its financial arrangements
• guide communications with members and the public
• oversee the recruitment, retention and involvement of members
• develop and maintain a culture that is inclusive and welcoming
• establish and monitor working arrangements
• ensure that all activities give priority to community engagement, including hard to reach groups
• authorise members to enter and view premises
• ensure adequate training and support is provided
Membership of the Strategy Group
The Strategy Group will have 12 members, elected by all members of the Norfolk LINk, with the capacity to co-opt up to a maximum of 5 additional members to carry out specific pieces of work. The remit of the co-opted members will be to use their specialist knowledge or skills in relation to the work of the Strategy Group; as such they will not be permanent members and will not have voting rights. ”
Norfolk County has an area of about 2,069 square miles and a population (at 2007) of 840,656. Norwich has a population of just 132,241 which leaves the rest of Norfolk, much of this rural communities, with 708,415.
So this ‘Star Chamber’ comprising just 12 control freaks sitting in Norwich and conducting most of their activities in and around Norwich (I live out in the country and no-one here even knows about the existence of LINks), is set to direct and dictate LINks for an area that size and with that many people. Am I alone in thinking this is degenerate and twisted bureaucracy gone way off the rails?
Anyway, after working enthusiastically for Norfolk LInks but being stifled by a repressive Star Chamber, which rejected my expertise at every step, an opportunity to do some real voluntary work for Age Concern Norfolk and, after being accredited as an Age Concern Advocate (an activity which will recognise and use my skills without tokenism), I have decided I would prefer to concentrate on that constructive area and ditch the Norfolk LINks debacle.
That is not to say I will not continue to campaign for service user and carer rights as an independent citizen - there are many avenues for this, not in the least the new Care Quality Commission (http://www.cqc.org.uk), and I have, for instance, today written to the Norfolk PCT (now calling itself NHS Norfolk) asking what they are doing about the provision of Independent Mental Health Advocates (no sign on their website) which are statutorily implemented today. I’ll let you know what they say.