My blog post ‘The Wales Audit Office Cometh – Yet Again’ details how a ‘charity event’ involving Awyr Las/Blue Sky, the charity run by the Betsi, seemed to function as an effective way of siphoning money from the Betsi into the coffers of a business in Cardiff. A lot of bad publicity ensued and the Wales Audit Office were called in to investigate. I was previously aware of Awyr Las, but I was never sure what it actually did and it’s website isn’t that informative, so when I saw that a public meeting of Awyr Las Trustees was due to be held today I thought that I ought to go along and find out more.
I attended the meeting this morning but left before the meeting ended – however I did hold out for two and a half hours before leaving, so I have gained a bit of information.
Prior to today’s meeting I discovered that the Trustees of Awyr Las were none other than the Betsi Board, so I was expecting to see some familiar faces today. However Peter Higson (Chair) opened the meeting and then announced that Cheryl Carlisle, Bethan Russell Williams, Morag Olsen and Andy Roach (Director of Mental Health and Learning Disabilities) had sent in apologies because they were ‘ill’ and one of the stars of this blog, Martin Jones (Director of WOD), ‘had other commitments’. Nonetheless a few others that we know and love were in attendance. Higson was looking quite beleaguered and Grace Lewis-Parry (Board Secretary) positively glum. Happily though Jo Rycroft-Malone was in good spirits and spent a substantial part of the morning sniggering and giggling with a woman unknown to me who was sitting next to her and at one point turned around to laugh at me. Jo usually makes no contribution to meetings at all and merely stares blankly ahead of her, so presumably this performance was to demonstrate that she’s not worried that her many gross conflicts of interest have featured in my recent blog posts (please see ‘An Expert On The Betsi Board!’, ‘Conflicts of Interest – and Some Very Big Salaries’, ‘Time To Talk?’ and ‘The Biggest Expert Of The Lot’). Well do have a good laugh while you can Jo – as someone who seems to have bagged themselves a first class seat on the Titanic when you finally wake up to reality you’ll be looking as glum as Grace.
Before the meeting began I had been approached by someone called Kirsty Thomson who seemed a good deal more human and transparent that I am used to from people that I encounter at Betsi Board meetings. Kirsty explained that she was Head of Fundraising for Awyr Las and that at todays meeting there would be a ‘workshop session’ with an ‘independent consultant’ called Jon Scourse.
The meeting kicked off with a request for any declarations of interest. There were none. Why was I not surprised when someone with Jo’s track record is one of the Trustees?
A lady called Helen then presented the Annual Report and Accounts for Awyr Las for 2015/16 which had been signed off and it was explained that a subsidiary charity also existed, North Wales Cancer Centre. It was explained that there was a wide remit whereby Awyr Las could receive funds and that it made a ‘real difference’ to the delivery of ‘safe and effective healthcare’. So presumably if it were not for Awyr Las, services provided by the Betsi would be in an even more dire state. We were told that over £4 million had been spent by Awyr Las (yes the Betsi Board, having demonstrated that they are completely unable to manage the Board’s own funds are also in control of the millions in Awyr Las) and that a Linear Accelerator for £1.7 million had been purchased. The north Wales NHS is always impressed by such machines that go ping – just before the North West Wales Trust met its end, Martin Jones (CEO) and Elfed Roberts (Chairman) appeared in the local press having purchased a machine that went ping, although I was told that they could not afford the staff needed to operate it. I was also told that due to the financial arrangements in place at the time, Martin and Elfed only had a limited amount of time in which to spend funds before their empire vanished, so they decided to purchase a machine that went ping.
It was also explained that the refurbishment of Alaw Ward had been approved and that a key area of expenditure was the purchase of software for patients with dementia. Now in the right hands, this software could no doubt be useful, but the Betsi is of course currently in special measures because of the Tawel Fan scandal – which involved patients with dementia being abused and neglected. No members of staff involved in the abuse and neglect have been disciplined and staff are refusing to co-operate with the investigation into the abuse. So how useful this software will be I do not know. However we were told that there is an advisory group which scrutinises each bid over £5000.
During 2015, Awyr Las received almost £3 million from donations and legacies. It was stated that ‘legacies are a testament to staff on the ground’ and that most legacies come from cancer patients – they certainly wouldn’t be from mental health patients. £2.9 million was spent on equipment and buildings and there was a target of £3 million for reserves. The investment advisors used by Awyr Las include Rothschilds and it was stressed that there were no investments in tobacco or alcohol companies. I’m not sure that these attempts at ethical conduct are going to convince anyone though – Rothschilds are hardly paragons of virtue and considering that criminal and unscrupulous conduct on the part of some people involved in the NHS in north Wales has been completely ignored I think that boycotting tobacco and alcohol firms is neither here nor there.
Then we heard about the inevitable – the ‘challenges’. The last 12 months have been ‘difficult’ and a time of ‘reflection and learning’ – I thought that they might have been. The embarrassment that was the ‘Lap of Wales’ was discussed (please see blog post ‘The Wales Audit Office Cometh – Yet Again’) and it was admitted that there were ‘internal weaknesses that we needed to discuss’. There certainly were – more than £150,000 was raised, but only approx. £1,500 ended up in the hands of the ‘good cause’, which was actually a completely unnecessary ‘good cause’, but over £30,000 (at least) was paid to a Cardiff company which was chaired by the person who organised the ‘charity event’. However Helen reassured the Trustees that steps will be taken to prevent a further occurrence.
Marian Wyn Jones then assured everyone that ‘lessons have been learnt’. The Betsi Board spend an awful lot of time learning lessons – one wonders why they continue to find themselves embroiled in so many scandals…Gary the CEO maintained that ‘great stuff’ was being done. A lot of things in Gary’s world are ‘great’, he reminds me of the young executive character in the ‘Rise and Fall of Reggie Perrin’ who maintained that everything was ‘great’ no matter what disaster was befalling everyone or what hare-brained scheme was being proposed – all we need is another Board member following up Gary’s ‘great’ with the word ‘super’ and we’ll be transported right back into the heyday of the 70s TV sitcom…
Despite the Lap of Wales business and the involvement of the Wales Audit Office, Higson reminded everyone that Awyr Las was a very active and very well-run charity. And that they had learnt lessons from the Lap of Wales. However, Higson claimed mitigating circumstances – ‘we weren’t alone’. (This was a reference to the fact that two other organisations had been conned as well.) Higson also maintained that the fact that they had called in the Wales Audit Office themselves showed ‘an open approach’. Presumably this ‘open approach’ is why the Betsi still haven’t handed over copies of my medical records and why Higson still hasn’t dealt with my e mail asking why one of his staff admitted that some of my medical records had been ‘removed’ from my file ‘many years ago’…Higson stated that it would be useful to have a press statement about today, so I’ll look out for that.
The Head of Fundraising, Kirsty, then told the Trustees that ‘today is about the responsibility that you have as Trustees’ and that NHS staff across north Wales should be ‘huge passionate advocates’ of Awyr Las. Well try talking to some of the staff Kirsty – some of the most abusive ones are in positions of responsibility and the others are so demoralised and alienated that they’re not in a position to be huge passionate advocates of anything. Kirsty then showed a video that featured the machine that goes ping.
It was stated that local people should be encouraged to support the 70 plus charities supporting healthcare across north Wales. Presumably this includes CAIS and MIND that have played a major role in colluding with the abysmal state of the mental health services and who seem to enjoy a very cosy relationship with the north Wales NHS and some of its employees past and present. Kirsty maintained that peoples urge to ‘give back’ was always related to the care that they’ve received – so that’s why no-one on the receiving end of the mental health services ever feels like ‘giving back’ then – and today was about finding out about engaging better with staff. Er, well the Betsi could stop promoting ruthless bullies to management positions and weed a few similar people out of the Board itself…
Following on from this, Jon Scourse, an ‘Independent Consultant’ who is retained by the Association of NHS Charities, gave a presentation and emphasised that the day was about the Trustees ‘legal responsibilities’. If I was one of those Trustees I’d take heed – ‘legal responsibilities’ sounds ominous and who knows how many landmines are lurking in Awyr Las. The Board certainly haven’t been any good at preventing explosions in the Betsi. Jon mentioned that engagement with management and staff was critically important and that the Trustees had ‘quite a lot of challenges’ (yes, in their incarnation as the Betsi Board they are loathed by most of the staff). Jon then talked about causes ‘close to peoples hearts’ and the ‘importance of the Health Board to north Wales’. Does John know of the reputation that the Betsi has acquired locally?? Jon followed on with a discussion regarding techniques used in fundraising and discussed the possibility of ‘local people’ giving ‘large donations’. Would these be the local people who are on salaries far, far lower than most of the Trustees themselves? Higson on £65,000 plus, Martin on £130,000, Grace topping £100,000 and Gary on a no doubt ‘great’ salary of £200,000…Jon then talked about ‘tribute funds’, set up in the memory of people who have died ‘tragic deaths’ (like a few of the suicides that have taken place in the acute mental health units run by the Betsi perhaps). Jon also curiously stated that there are far too many charities in this county and we don’t need any more – which would seem to be an own goal…
Jon continued to tell the Trustees that their profile is ‘very high as a Health Board’ – it certainly is, there’s a major scandal on a weekly basis – and ‘this is an opportunity for you’. I was rather puzzled by this logic, particularly when Jon went on to say that with ‘so many hospitals now in special measures’ (I’m sure that resonated with the Trustees), there might be ‘opportunities for charity growth’. Sorry, I don’t follow – patients are dropping like flies, the Betsi is nearly bankrupting the Welsh Govt so dire is their financial situation, so this is going to prompt people to hand over dosh to a charity whose Trustees are the same people that constitute the Betsi Board? Jon explained that Awyr Las ‘deserves preference’ above other charities who ‘can dominate’ and that donations to other charities represent money leaking out of Awyr Las (which raises further questions regarding why the Betsi seem to do so many favours to CAIS and MIND). Jon then mentioned that ‘your brand is great’. Que??? The Betsi and everything associated with it is toxic.
Jon explained that where a patient has a good experience, they will be ‘utterly committed’ and ‘that a lot more people out there could be cultivated to that level of commitment’ – not with the current standards of care they couldn’t. Jon mentioned the importance of keeping the charity in the public eye (well they featured in the Daily Post regarding the ‘Lap of Wales’ saga) and generating goodwill in the community…Under ‘risks’ he mentioned adverse NHS publicity – at which the Betsi excels. Jon maintained that ‘in a period of adverse NHS publicity it can be very helpful to have a charity conveying a positive message’ – but what if the Trustees of that charity are the very same people generating the adverse NHS publicity Jon?
Questions from the Trustees then followed and Bobby Feely suggested a campaign for staff to donate every month – no mention of a similar campaign for those highly paid Board members to donate. Kirsty, Head of Fundraising, suggested that other charities providing healthcare services should be seen as friends – they already are Kirsty, the Betsi seem to be doing an awful lot of favours for CAIS and MIND. Jon mentioned that ‘social care and mental health are very hard to fundraise for’ – CAIS and MIND are obviously exceptions.
Jeni Dean suggested a staff lottery to support staff in hardship and mentioned that some staff were using foodbanks. I can believe this – there are some very modestly paid jobs in the NHS and if someone has a family making ends meet can be difficult. So maybe Martin and Grace could show a bit of goodwill and donate a sizeable chunk of their ten year protected salaries to such a lottery to boost the funds available…
Just before I left the meeting, Margaret (Vice-Chair) remembered to declare an interest….
Throughout Jon’s presentation, he talked a lot about fundraising in NHS charities generally and mentioned a few well-known examples like Great Ormond Street and Addenbrookes. All I could think of was that most famous and successful one of all – Stoke Mandeville and all the tireless work that dear old Jimmy Saville put in.
After I left the meeting I had a quick read of the promotional material that had been distributed there. This included the Awyr Las Newsletter for Winter/Spring 2016. Among the news items in the newsletter was a piece about Elen’s Fund by Rhys Meirion (well he was associated with the disasterous Lap of Wales) and a ‘Thank You for supporting people living with dementia in North Wales’. This item asked ‘why has dementia care become such a big issue’? Possible answer – because dementia patients were subjected to terrible abuse in Tawel Fan and no-one has been held to account…The question ‘what more can be done to ensure patients with dementia receive the very best experience and care when they’re admitted to hospital?’ was also posed. How about ‘you could sack and prosecute abusive staff’. Then most entertainingly, there was a page in the newsletter urging readers to ‘help us improve mental health care across North Wales’. Where on earth do we begin? (I note that on this page, it was stated that ‘we need your help to fund’ ‘exercise equipment…in mental health units’. Well there is some fantastic gym equipment and a sports hall in the Heddfan Unit but when I was held prisoner there by Raj Sambhi because I kept insisting that neglect and abuse were happening in the north Wales mental health services and that there’d been a paedophile ring operating in north Wales (please see blog posts ‘A Tale Worthy Of Enid Blyton’ and ‘Five Dig Further Into The Heddfan Unit’), I and the other patients were hardly ever allowed to use it because Sambhi wouldn’t let us go down to the gym or sports hall…
I notice that I was the only public observer at today’s meeting. Before I went to this meeting a number of people were making quips to me regarding the foolishness of anyone letting the Betsi Board loose with a few million of charity cash. So I’d better take an interest in Awyr Las. Particularly as Jo Rycroft-Malone, who it seems aspires to be the Queen of Conflicts of Interest, is one of the Trustees. Perish the thought that dosh from Awyr Las might find its way into her research account…