WELCOME TO ALL FELLOW CAMPAIGNERS for DISABILITY RIGHTS - a pan disability blog connecting my work with, EQUAL LIVES, the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) and the Survivor History Group.

Protest, Norwich Job Centre

Protest, Norwich Job Centre
Fatso Gets Militant!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Slippery Syntax

Norfolk LINk must have been having training sessions from the Blair arch-spinmaster Alistair Campbell. I’ve just been looking at their new website again and it’s a minefield of gelatinous truths and fine and painted but vaporous words.

Let’s have a look at some of the things they say set against my own recent experience of working with them:

“This group has a wealth of knowledge and experience and brings together individuals and organisations such as Age Concern, Help the Aged and the Older People’s Partnership.”

In my recent role as a voluntary advocate for Age Concern Norfolk, the last meeting I attended was a get-together of all the voluntary advocates and the two supervisors. Not one of these people knew about Norfolk LINk and when I pointed out there is supposed to be a partnership I was told by a supervisor it is not connected with Age Concern Norfolk and must be another Age Concern organisation (it isn’t, it is Age Concern Norfolk). Norfolk LINk also had a Communications Group (out of which came the embryo website) and I worked on that group. At the last meeting I went to of that group, the Age Concern Norfolk representative attached to the Host was present. He just as well might not have been for all the contribution he didn’t make and when I tried to talk to him about his advocacy service and the importance of linking to that, he didn’t know what I was talking about.

“Individual LINk members have been part of the working groups developing the services to ensure that the views of service users and their carers are known.”

There has been much talk of this since the interim LINk was set up in April 2008, especially the positive statements by the former Chair. But that is all it has been - talk. In the annual health check investigations into mental health services for the then Healthcare Commission, all we did was to have meetings with the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust, cosily taking their word for the standards and availability of services (and even that left out important aspects). What little consultation there was with service users was mainly second hand from the Trust’s Service User Council. That Council does some splendid work but it is well controlled by the Trust and membership mainly comprises users from in and around Norwich who have been referred to the secondary mental health services - leaving out the whole 90% of the mentally distressed population who are either hidden in rural communities or have their services via primary care.

“The working group has also organised its own workshops for LINk members and voluntary organisations to give a wider range of people an additional opportunity to have a say on how the service will be delivered.”

This was from the Improved Access to Psychological Therapy Group (IAPT). I worked on this group. The ‘workshops’ in my experience were organised by the Host and the PCT and were essentially propaganda exercises for the PCT. The numbers of service users present were few and the ‘workshop’ meetings were held in either Norwich of Swaffham - effectively excluding ordinary service users and carers from around Norfolk.

In a slight departure here, I will say this is a pattern which the Host and ‘Strategy Group’ seems to be following. The Host (from Voluntary Norfolk) is proud of its easy, close relationships with both the local authority and the Trusts. There is a little bit of history here for the Host comprises some of the same people from the former PPI Forums’ Forum Support Organisation (FSO) which was under the aegis of the same voluntary organisation although then under a different name. The interesting development here is that when the FSO had wind of its demise, a few of the FSO staff shifted quickly into employment with the Trusts, including the FSO Manager. So there are, potentially, well established cosy relationships here and I have, at times, had an inkling that these may be unhealthy in such a theatre of operation.

There is too, an apparently all pervading mindset in the Star Chamber which says “We mustn’t upset our masters.” which seems to be a traditional Norfolk mantra. So rolling in bed with them is standard practice. There’s history here too. The Star Chamber and its mode of operation didn’t arise democratically as they would have you believe: it came out of a previous ‘cosy’ relationship with the local authority manager who was charged with preparing the way for LINks prior to April 2008. That manager did his job by arranging two large meetings held just outside Norwich - meetings which were not known to many outside of the existing PPI Forum and which effectively excluded ordinary service users and disabled people throughout Norfolk. The upshot was the interim Star Chamber being formed from those ex Forum members who got to those meetings. Democratic my Aunt Mellie! (see my set of PPlog entries about this beginning 20.02.08.)

“This research has provided the basis for investigating and assessing a range of media for conveying the harmful effects of alcohol and drug use to young people with the emphasis on prevention rather than cure.”

“The LINk has a strategy group of 12 members. The group decides what working groups should be set up and how issues on the watch list should be dealt with and monitors the work on them.”

I’ve put these two quotes together because the facts around the first are illustrative of a serious problem pervading Norfolk LINk. The Drug and Alcohol Use Group is relatively new and I was an inaugural member. There had certainly been some excellent, wide ranging research carried out by another member. Unfortunately, being very enthusiastic and skilled, she had carried out this research on her own initiative. At that inaugural meeting she was firmly told she could not pursue any of the avenues for research she had already established because the ‘Strategy Group’ had to ratify it all first (from memory the next meeting of that Star Chamber was a month away). Stifled, suppressed and hugely frustrated, she left in tears. That was the last meeting I attended.

“Opportunities to join these groups or work on specific issues are advertised on this website and in our newsletters.”

And then of course the opportunities to “work on specific issues” are clamped by the Star Chamber.

“if you think something should be improved, you can contact us direct.”

But only in an unspecific way winging a course to who knows where.

I sent this mail recently: I’m...“disappointed there is no provision for users and carers to contact the working groups with concerns. I have case examples of adult social services bad practice which, as a LINks Participant (see Definitions in Getting Ready for LINks, DH) I would like to pass on to the Older People's Mental Health Group but I know not how to do this.”

I’ve had no reply.

“We attend and give your feedback on working meetings of health and social care organisations, particularly those that design new services or redesign existing ones.”

My impression was it is not “your” feedback given, but the feedback and opinions of the members of the Star Chamber. They can’t give “your” feedback because they aren’t talking to you - just the “health and social care organisations.”

“We report progress on the work we are doing and our findings in our newsletters and on this website.”

Yes well, if the standard of accuracy of their reporting is exemplified by their website, you know what to do!

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The Tough Tenor (when I could walk)!

In a Mellotone

In a Mellotone
Ah sweet Youffff