Wednesday, 28 January 2015

no room for an independent voice - the corporate rules in SIAA

[here is a 400 word piece I wrote for the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (not accepted)]

Advocating for Family in Psychiatric Settings: the Challenges
"In 2012 and 2013 I advocated for two of my sons, now aged 30 and 36, in two different health board areas when they were psychiatric inpatients of IPCUs.  They called me in to advocate at clinical meetings and at Mental Health Tribunals.  I saw my role as an independent advocate, witness and peer supporter.  I’m a survivor of mental illness and psychiatric treatment.

There were a number of challenges in advocating in one setting due to the use of a locked seclusion room to manage the patients, a room which had no toilet or drinking water.  In addition there were other constrictions in the ward: no pens to write with unless accompanied by two nurses; no plastic bottles of water allowed; plastic cutlery; sleeping accommodation locked during the day; some visitors (me) having to enter the ward by the back door through the staff kitchen, no light or bell, in the winter time. 

Being an advocate for my other son was challenging because of the polypharmacy, the use of psychiatric drug cocktails to manage the patients.  On the one hand I was helping my son to speak out his concerns while on the other I spoke out as a mother and carer, highlighting the issues of using 5 drugs, two of them antipsychotics, like a chemical cosh.  It was easier to be an advocate and carer in this setting because I was respected.

It was a different situation in the seclusion room IPCU where my advocacy role at clinical meetings was not welcomed by the RMO and I was put under pressure to influence my son regarding drug treatment and compliance.  I had to resist these pressures and stand with my son.  At the time I didn’t know the full story about what went on.  After my son was discharged and came home we had to live through the flashbacks and the pain from the psychiatric treatment.

In 2000-2002 I was involved in managing advocacy volunteers, advocating for individuals and facilitating self advocacy groups, and in 2001 I attended the Allies in Change weekends run by the Scottish Human Services Trust.  I remember it as a time of real potential and possibilities.  However by 2009 I found myself campaigning with Fife advocacy groups at Scottish Parliament about the advocacy tendering and local groups losing out.  I am now a mental health writer, activist and campaigner, independently speaking out." 


Here is the story of my attempts to have this piece accepted by SIAA:

On November 2014 I was looking through the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance website and noticed this invitation: "The SIAA wants to hear from you. If you would like to be a guest contributor" so thought I would respond.

I've known the SIAA Director since about 2009, met with her in the SIAA office in Edinburgh, have attended their AGM on occasion, phoned to discuss topics, sent them information and updated them on the Fife situation regarding advocacy, or the lack of.  I considered her to be an ally.  So I Emailed suggesting I write a piece, saying:

"It might be useful for me to write about the challenges of providing independent advocacy to family members when there are competing "interests".  Eg as a mother I would have preferred my sons to conform, to swallow the drugs, so as to be "safer" and not subject to coercion.  However as an advocate my task was to represent their wishes and to help them achieve what they wanted.  One of my sons resisted drug treatment while the other can swallow anything.  If I was to write some pieces for SIAA about these issues it may help other carers and patients, mental health professionals."

I eventually got a response on the 13 November from the Director who said: 

"We may have a 1 page slot for the Spring edition (approx. 400 words). It would be interesting if you wrote about your experiences advocating for your sons and the conflict of interest that raised. 
I can’t guarantee that your piece would appear in the Spring edition because we have already approached other contributors and are  awaiting confirmation.  

Also I need to be clear that SIAA has full editorial control over all contributions to the magazine and therefore  any article submitted may be amended. If you would like to contribute then the deadline is 19 January 2015."

Although it sounded iffy as to whether I would pass the grade I decided to have a go and submitted a piece, and did so on the 16 December.  There was no payment for the privilege.  I wasn't doing it to get famous.

On the 9 January this year I got a response from the Director of SIAA, asking me to change the focus of my piece.  There was a suggestion I should write about how my sons "didn’t want to take medication" and how I "wanted them to take it and get better".  Which I never said and wouldn't have said.  My point was about being conformist so as to avoid coercion or compulsory treatment.  There is a difference.  

I always resisted swallowing the drugs and was forced to comply.  The older I get the less willing I am to persuade family members to voluntarily take the drugs if they don't want to.  Why should they have to?  That's why we have independent advocacy.  To help people speak out.

So we reached an impasse, the Director of SIAA and me.  I wasn't prepared to have words put in my mouth.  She wasn't prepared to take my story as written.  

My final Email sent today to the SIAA Director, copied to others I knew on the Board, had the strapline:

"no room for an independent voice - the corporate rules in SIAA"

Saturday, 29 March 2014

TODAY Mental Health Advocacy Group Fights Fife Council's Cuts - Video from May 2009

Remembering May 2009 and campaigning with the TODAY Group at Scottish Parliament, against the tendering of the Fife mental health advocacy contracts.

To no avail.  Unfortunately the local grassroots advocacy projects, TODAY Group and Fife Advocacy, lost their contracts and the Warwickshire based Circles Network won the bid.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

another one bites the dust

Got an Email yesterday from Circles Network management confirming another resignation from the Fife advocacy project.  My response:

"Sorry to hear that ..... Another one bites the dust."

I forwarded the Email on to NHS Fife folk, saying:

"About 7 down and 2 to go."

 Then forwarded the Email on to my MSP, saying:

"One by one they have gone, the independent advocacy workers from the Fife Advocacy and Today Group that was.  Replaced with new employees of the learning disability service provider from Warwickshire, England.   Who said back in 2011 or so that they would set up a Scottish company so as to be "independent"."


Saturday, 14 December 2013

(16 Nov 13) a response to Circles Network letter threatening legal action if I speak out

Firstly, I will continue to speak out about whatever I believe needs to be said, whether it is about CN or anything else.  The threat of "legal redress" will not silence me.  

Secondly, I maintain that I have done nothing to "bring" CN into "disrepute".  If an organisation uses bullying tactics and threatening letters then this demonstrates, in my opinion, disreputable practice.

Thirdly, my offer of volunteering was with the Fife advocacy project which just happens at present to be managed by CN based in Warwickshire, England.  I have no desire to volunteer with CN in England but I do want to help the Fife advocates and to support Fife people who are in psychiatric settings and want to speak out.

Fourthly, there is no conflict of interest in my desire to help with advocacy work in Fife but there is a conflict of interest in a service provider organisation trying to provide independent advocacy, even if from another country. 

Finally, although I don't have a good opinion of CN, based on previous experience of trying to engage with them, I do have a good opinion of the Fife advocates who have been working over the last 4 years in very difficult circumstances.  A high turnover of staff.  Low morale.  Continual system changes implemented by CN in England without consultation.  Issues around pay scales and modes of travel.  Various other pressures.

I am entitled to my opinion.  People can choose whether to believe my version of the story or not. 

I am not forcing my views on to anyone else.  I am not threatening legal action on unpaid carers.  I refuse to be intimidated.

(15 Nov 13) I can't afford a solicitor but if anything ever did come to court I would gladly stand up and speak out

The thing is.  I recovered from mental illness and psychiatric treatment, on my own, so don't now get any benefits and didn't ever claim DLA.  

Which means I can't afford to get a solicitor to take anyone to court.  Unfortunately.

But if anything ever did come to court I would gladly stand up and speak out.  

I have plenty of evidence regarding unprofessional behaviour, human rights abuse, lack of independent advocacy in Fife and many other demonstrations of poor/bad practice.

(15 Nov 13) who'd have thought that offering to volunteer would result in so much disharmony?

You'd think a national organisation that prides itself on being inclusive would be glad of a volunteer with my capabilities and experience joining the advocacy project they manage in my local area.  

Helping get collective advocacy groups going.  
Supporting people to speak out and have a voice, about their psychiatric treatment or mental health services.

The local project manager was keen on the idea and also another experienced advocacy worker who I've known for over 5 years, since they were both in the TODAY Group, user led collective advocacy that lost out at the 2009 advocacy tendering process.  

We had a useful meeting at Stratheden Hospital to discuss this, back in August.  It seemed a straightforward process.  I'd complete the volunteer application form then attend a training course and then be assessed for suitability.  We were happy to go ahead with this but Circles Network in Warwickshire, England, have said "No".

(15 Nov 13) request for information about Circles Network Fife advocacy policies and procedures in Fife - October 2011

I had originally sent an FOI request to Fife Council social work head of adult and older people's services on 21 October 2011 at 14:33.  However on 21 November 2011 at 16:52 I received an Email from the senior social work manager for mental health saying:

"I am sorry Chrys but having consulted our Social Work Contracts section, I must advise that we do not hold the information you request in relation to Circles Fife advocacy project"

I then sent an Email on 30 November 2011 at 09.24, to the local manager of the Circles Network Fife Advocacy Project, copied in to the chief executive and regional manager of Circles Network, also the Fife Council senior social work service manager with the same request as in the FOI:

"I am writing to request information about the work of Circles Fife advocacy project. 

I would like information about the training of advocates in Fife, both paid and volunteer advocates.  I would like a copy of the training programme and outcomes, also how you evaluate that staff have taken on board the training received.  I would like to know how frequently the Fife advocates undertake training.

I would like a copy of all your policies regarding the provision of advocacy.  And I would like to know how Circles Fife actively involves service users in planning and managing the service.

I would like a copy of your evaluation tool, the process by which you qualitatively evaluate your service, and how you actively involve service users in this process.

I have questions about the collective advocacy undertaken by Circles Fife:

  • where the groups are being held and details - days, times, venue?
  • are these groups 'open'?  can anyone attend, if not open how can someone take part?
  • who is facilitating the groups - paid worker, volunteer or both?
  • what is the collective advocacy group agenda, aims, objectives?  are they all the same or have different focus?
  • how are these groups facilitated?  resources used, methods, action plan etc
  • are any of the groups time limited?  eg are they running for say 8wks at a time? 
  • how do they ensure that group members are able to say what they want?  how do they encourage freedom of expression? 
  • what training is available for their staff, volunteers and others linked with Circles Network Fife, in collective advocacy, working with groups, scribing, reporting back (accurately and without bias or influence)? 

I would like a copy of all the forms used by Circles Fife in their advocacy work, including the forms used when meeting clients, support and supervision forms used with staff, complaints forms for users of the service, complaints forms for carers of people who use the service. 

I would like to know about the advocacy support available to people in acute inpatient wards in Fife.  How does Circles Fife make sure that patients and their carers know about their advocacy project, what is available, how they can get in touch etc?  Is Circles Fife proactive in reaching carers of people with a 'mental disorder'?

I requested this information from Fife Council who did not have it and recommended that I contact Circles Fife directly for this.

I look forward to hearing from you."

In response to this request I was invited to a meeting with the Circles Network regional manager, for Scotland and Ireland, and informed in a phone call that I would receive copies of all the information I had asked for.  

When I got to the meeting on 14 December 2011 at 2.00pm in Cupar there was no information available.  I was told by the regional manager that it was their "intellectual property" and I was accused of having a "derogatory manner".  (Copy of my complaint Email I sent that same day in next blog post)

I also found out that the Circles Network regional manager on 22 December 2011 had contacted a colleague of mine in another health board area, misrepresenting what I said and slandering my reputation.  I have a copy of this Email.