In The News At Present

I’m following up a few research leads for the blog at the moment, so today’s post is just a resume of a few stories that are currently in the news, with a bit of background info on some of the people involved.

This morning the ‘Today’ programme broadcast a rather weak piece concerning the issue of men in the workplace and their mental health. Of course, MIND provided someone to comment  – not the odious Paul Farmer, who has kept a low profile for a few days, but a Madeleine McGivern. Madeleine is ‘head of programmes, workplace well-being’ for MIND. I’m taking more and more of an interest in the Third sector, as are a number of other bloggers, because it has become clear that MIND are not the only charity coining it in by pretending to be representing the oppressed whilst doing anything but. There are problems across the whole of the Third sector. Madeleine has a wealth of experience in this domain, having previously worked for Christian Aid and Water Aid for some years. She does actually seem to have a lot of experience in working in the Middle East and specialised in the Middle East whilst she was at university. Her CV in that field is very impressive. So one wonders how she ended up in her present post with MIND – the only clue is that prior to her extended stint concerning the Middle East, she was a charity junky, having worked in a number of roles in the Third sector after she graduated. But there are now many people who are building extended highly paid careers on the back of charity work. Madeleine has shown a bit of nous in terms of building a network to land such roles – she co-founded something called FIND, a network which connects women with professional interests similar to hers. Despite her lack of previous stated experience in mental health, Madeleine is also a Trustee of Haringey MIND. My post ‘MIND Are Out For Mental Health – Never For Themselves Of Course…’ mentions that the worryingly paedophile-friendly Tony Smythe, former Chief Exec of MIND, continued to be involved with Haringey MIND long after he stepped down as Chief Exec, as did his partner Jeanne. So I took a look at the present ‘Board of volunteer Trustees’ for Haringey MIND.

There’s an awful lot of them – so either Haringey MIND is a substantial concern or they are top heavy. The Trustees are described on the MIND In Haringey website thus:

David Pascall, Chair and Acting Treasurer. David states that he has personal experience of mental illness and that he lives in Haringey. Is he a long term service user, battling with the excesses of welfare reform? Probably not. He states that he has retired from full-time executive work and is seeking non-executive chairmanships and directorships. He’s not going to be making the tea at the drop in centre then. I completely accept that executives can experience mental illness but David’s CV suggests that he wasn’t clobbered that badly – and some of his previous posts are rather inconsistent with the image that MIND likes to project. David was a senior executive with BP for 25 years. That’s the BP that was responsible for the 2010 Deep Horizon oil spill, the biggest oil spill in marine waters in history, which resulted in BP pleading guilty to eleven counts of felony manslaughter, two misdemeanours, one felony count of lying to Congress and paying more than $4.5 billion pounds in fines and penalties. David was the MD of Terra Firma, a private equity group, for eight years. (Terra Firma’s record is so bad that I have not got time to detail it all here, I recommend interested readers to just google, you’ll find pages of unscrupulous practices.) David has also held Gov’t positions and has experience of a range of non-executive chairs and directors positions.

Marcus Yorke. Marcus doesn’t claim any service user credentials himself, but he previously worked as an occupational therapist in a 57 bedded unit for young males with psychotic illness, supporting them to find work and educational opportunities. Marcus may have been doing a very useful job there – or he may have been the sort of mental health professional described in a previous post, who coerced people into work and education when they were not capable of it, resulting in them hitting disaster after a few weeks and finding themselves back in the mental health system again, although the records of Marcus will have had lot of ticks in the boxes labelled ‘recovered’. I cannot help thinking that Marcus’s previous employment will have been very attractive to MIND, as they made it clear to Gov’t some time ago that they couldn’t wait to bid for those lucrative DWP contracts forcing claimants with mental health problems off benefits into work. Marcus has organised events challenging stigma!

Gemma Coleman, Secretary. Gemma spent five months volunteering at Haringey MIND and then joined the Board. She worked for the Dept of Education in SEN and disability research. She has also worked for Rethink Mental Illness and has a Masters in Mental Health Research from UCL.

Laura Aldridge. Has personal experience of mental health issues. Laura spent a year volunteering at Haringey MIND in the admin dept. She believes that ‘mental health charities are ever more important due to the lack of Gov’t funding for mental illness’. Not only is that the Official Paul Farmer Line, but the only reason why Farmer, in his £100k pa plus post, wants an increase in Gov’t funding ‘for mental illness’ is so that it is channelled in the direction of MIND. Laura has worked in academic publishing and is a graduate of UCL.

Oran Blackwood. Oran is a mental health survivor and is training as a counsellor and SEN co-ordinator. He has ten years of experience working with SEN and mental health issues in post-16 education. Oran also volunteers with a number of other charities.

Tricia Bohn. She has worked as a GP in Hackney for more than 20 years, in a practice with a strong commitment to mental health and local voluntary organisations. Prior to working as a GP Tricia was a Youth and Community worker in Haringey and Hackney.

Glynnis Joffe. Glynnis has over thirty years experience in working in social care, initially as a social worker and then as a social services senior manager for twenty years. She has experience of working with NHS CCGs and provider Trusts offering hospital and community services, including mental health. Glynnis believes in co-production between the voluntary sector and service users!

Helen Moulinos. Helen trots out the myth that ‘1 in 4’ people suffer from mental illness. Which is not true, but it’s what MIND tells people. She has twenty plus years of international commercial experience in charity and the financial services. She has skills in business and commercial strategy and creating new business models. She is a Trustee of an East London based mental health charity – which is helping people return to the workplace! Helen is also involved in restructuring three of the UKs largest public health and social care charities.

David Mosse. David has personal experience of bereavement due to suicide. He is the Professor and Head of the Anthropology Dept at SOAS (University of London). His career has been in community based approaches to poverty reduction and human development internationally eg. Oxfam in India. He is a Trustee for an NGO working in rural India and a Governor of SOAS.

Heather Pegrum. She is a Mental Health First Aider and a volunteer support recovery worker with a background in fine art/graphic design.

Richard Popple. Richard is a trainer and facilitator for the private and public sectors including the NHS. He is also an actor and writer.

 

What is striking about these Trustees is what a very limited sector of society they have been drawn from. Many of them work in or manage the mental health services or arms of Gov’t which have led to so many of the problems experienced by ‘service users’. Two of them were educated at UCL which has been involved in concealing abuses in the mental health services and a number of them have spent their careers working in the Third sector. There is not going to be much divergence in thought among these Trustees – with the exception of the two who have a background in academic/international NGO work and of course the oil executive/corporate capitalist, they will all have been completely inducted into thinking about mental health problems and ways of addressing them in the way that the mental health services and MIND do. Which has not got us very far. Furthermore, most of these Trustees are in positions which makes public dissent impossible.

The Voice of the Service Users? Hardly. Some of them claim to have personal experience of mental health problems, but they all seem to have been able to build careers. That is not to dismiss their own experiences, which will be valuable – but there is an obvious absence of the voices of people with severe enduring mental illness who have experienced long-term poverty. It is those people who are being left destitute by Theresa May’s welfare reforms – welfare reforms which MIND intends to benefit from by bidding for Gov’t contracts. Something else is clear about this Board as well. Whilst I am cynical about organisations hitting ‘diversity’ targets, there is only one Trustee who is not white British. Haringey has one of the most ethnically and culturally mixed populations in the country. There is a huge Cypriot community, a huge Black community and a Jewish community. Statistics tell us that the Black community in Haringey will be over-represented among people who have been diagnosed with psychosis and treated under the Mental Health Act. Where are they on this Board? Where are older people, many of whom will be in receipt of ‘services’ (or more probably will need to be in receipt of services but won’t be getting them)? The Service Users on this Board are professional people whom I suspect have experienced the milder types of mental health problems. Which is probably why one of them is quoting the misleading 1 in 4 statistic…

 

Another health news item on the ‘Today’ programme was a discussion concerning the Gov’ts plans to increase the number of medical student places in UK universities – it’s a bit too little too late. It was pointed out to the Health Minister being interviewed, Phillip Dunne, that those students won’t be arriving in the medical workforce for years, yet the increase in numbers is a response to the alleged shortage of doctors now. Dunne stated that medical students make a valuable contribution to the medical workforce whilst they are training. They are certainly used as cheap labour for menial tasks, but they are also kicked about and bullied – particularly by a certain sort of Angel actually. Angels get kicked about and bullied by Top Doctors themselves which causes some of them to get the retaliation into medical students on the grounds that in a few years time their salaries will be exceeding the Angels’ pay and they’ll be putting the boot into the Angels themselves. It’s all a case of Red In Tooth And Claw in the NHS. Medical students are also completely powerless – so if they’re witnessing mad or negligent Top Doctors in action they can do nothing about it at all, even if patients are being very obviously harmed. NHS whistleblowers are nearly always sacked even when they’re paid up members of the workforce – I’ve not yet actually encountered a medical student who’s ever tried to report malpractice or misconduct, although I know plenty who have witnessed it. I do know student nurses who have been forced off their course for reporting the abuse of patients.

Phillip Dunne also emphasised that more ‘diversity’ was needed among medical students and that the Gov’t will be giving universities incentives to accept students from underprivileged backgrounds or those who want to work in rural or coastal areas or psychiatry. No doubt the Gov’t will now implement some simplistic lame initiatives which will not result in what they want to achieve. This blog has previously commented that many Top Doctors are from privileged backgrounds. Younger Top Doctors however are often not quite so privileged – they still tend to be from the middle classes, but many more of them have attended state schools. The discussions concerning diversity in medicine that I’ve encountered are missing a crucial element. A greater variation in social backgrounds would be a positive move, but the problem with the Top Doctors isn’t so much that they are drawn from the more privileged sections of society – it is that so many of them are incredibly self-interested and no-one is acknowledging this. Their self-interest and sometimes sheer naked greed is what leads them to abuse or neglect patients, to demand bigger and bigger salaries, to mistreat their colleagues and to falsify research. There is little point in increasing diversity if the system still selects for people who’ll murder their grandmother – or indeed other people’s grandmothers – to advance themselves.

‘Today’ broadcast an interview with a Top Doctor who had been working in a rural GPs practice but who had returned to the city to work in a hospital. He explained in his interview that he had found general practice rather routine and boring and wanted ‘broader experience’. He was probably too tactful to admit that he had been stuck in a surgery with a group of old farts of senior partners who had ‘done things this way’ for years and weren’t going to take on board any suggestions from a whippersnapper. Of course, the image presented to aspiring medical students – including by medical schools themselves – is that of medicine as a glamorous career which involves endless heroics and life-saving, plus a healthy dose of brain surgery. If the students have been lured in on that basis, they will feel that it’s a bit of let-down when they find themselves spending most of their time treating frail elderly people with conditions that are not going to improve. As for tempting students into psychiatry – well Phillip Dunne needs to get rid of the Dafydds, the Marie Savages and the Tony Roberts’s if psychiatry is ever to become a popular speciality.

As is my current practice, I did a bit of research on the person being interviewed by ‘Today’, Phillip Dunne. His wiki entry describes him as a ‘farmer’ and a ‘banker’. I presume that he’s not the sort of farmer who has a flock of sheep on the side of a mountain in north Wales and is reliant on the agricultural subsidies to keep him from bankruptcy. Phillip I suspect is the sort of farmer who owns a few thousand acres and who also receives agricultural subsidies – but in his case they will ensure that he remains one of the wealthiest people in the UK. (I think that Lord Newborough of Rhug Farm Estate worked in the City before he returned to north Wales and took over the ‘family farm’.) I’m not sure that either of Dunne’s previous jobs leave him in a particularly good position to take up a role as Health Minister.

I was also interested to hear the former Chancellor Alistair Darling speaking on the radio – ‘Today’ were celebrating the 10th anniversary of the banking crash. Alistair reminisced about how it took him completely by surprise, he was actually on holiday and had gone out to buy some rolls when he heard that the French banks had collapsed. He didn’t worry but he then heard that banks were collapsing across the world and he thought gosh it might happened to the British banks. It did, a few hours later. Just like that. He subsequently had a phone conversation with the head of one of the biggest UK banks who told Alistair that the bank was probably going to run out of money later that afternoon and Alistair realised that he didn’t know what to do about any of it. Alistair, who had no idea that his running of the economy was going to lead to a banking crash and then didn’t know what to do when it did, has of course been rewarded with a seat in the Lords. Harriet Harman memorably stated that if only Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters none of it would ever have happened (it was a problem of gender you see, not one of global capitalism) and the rest of them blamed the general public for spending like drunken sailors, although Gordon Brown had positively encouraged everyone to do this. Liam Byrne put the icing on the cake by leaving a witty note behind telling the incoming Coalition Gov’t that there was no money left.

 

BBC News Wales online has reported that the Welsh Gov’t has announced that it will be dispensing with the post of the Welsh Language Commissioner, who is of course a star of this blog – Meri Huws aka the Crack of Doom (see posts ‘Let Me Enlighten Lord Gnome… and ‘Local Accessories’ for background on Meri and the way in which she was alleged to have secured the numerous jobs that she could not do). Cymdeithas yr Iaith have got very angry about this, but then Meri is their former Chair, so they would wouldn’t they. Heledd Gwyndaf from Cymdeithas stated that the Welsh Gov’ts proposals were ‘aimed at making civil servants lives easier’. Their lives certainly will be easier once Meri is out of the door, when she was given that job a senior colleague of mine at Bangor University observed that she won’t know what she is doing, but at least the civil servants will. Alun Davies the Minister for the Welsh language made some eminently sensible comments, including that promoting and protecting the Welsh language involves ‘more than slogans and chanting on an Eisteddfod field’. But as I noted previously, Meri should never have been given that position, there was outrage among language scholars and researchers when the appointment was announced because she had no credibility with any of them.

Meri gave an interview stating that ‘change for change’s sake is not acceptable’ but ‘change is acceptable if it leads to improvement’. So Meri, who has received more than £100k pa for the last five years from the Welsh Gov’t, is now dictating the circumstances under which they can kick her out. Meri has demanded ‘evidence’ that change is needed. The evidence Meri is that you made such a hash of drawing up ‘standards’ a few years ago that Leighton Andrews had to publicly comment on the cock-up and that after five years of you being in post there is every indication that Welsh is still on the back foot. Furthermore, it was recently reported that ‘Sports Direct’ in Bangor had banned staff from speaking Welsh. Did you organise a boycott of ‘Sports Direct’ or send anyone in undercover to clock how many laws they were breaking – which they will be, they are after all ‘Sports Direct’? No, you were at the Eisteddfod, giving interviews explaining why it wasn’t ‘acceptable’ for the Welsh Gov’t to sack you.

There was however a protest in Bangor yesterday by another self-appointed guardian of the Welsh language. Hywel Williams, MP for Caernarfon, was photographed standing in the rain on a pavement in Bangor holding up a small piece of paper with a ‘No To Starbucks’ printed on it. It transpires that ‘Starbucks’ are planning to open a café in Bangor. Was Hywel protesting because this American tax-dodging giant might put other cafes out of business or disrespect the Welsh language (which it probably will)? No, Hywel was protesting because he thought that the road junction on which the proposed ‘Starbucks’ is to be sited is ‘dangerous’. Not that anyone has ever been killed or injured there.

Even the ‘Times’ yesterday, the Murdoch owned, Danny Finkelstein-employing, Tory-supporting ‘Times’, published a leader supporting the right of people to speak Welsh and condemned ‘Sports Direct’ in the strongest terms. So the ‘Times’ has been more pro-active in it’s support for Welsh than the Welsh Language Commissioner. Is anymore evidence needed to justify her dismissal?

BBC News Wales recently ran a story concerning a scandal in a Council in south Wales. A number of staff were disciplined for consuming cooked breakfasts whilst they were supposed to be working. New readers may not be aware that one of my first posts when I started this blog was an account of the practices of the Arfon Community Mental Health Team. Not only did they perjure themselves in an attempt to have me imprisoned and threaten to assault clients in their own homes, but the Arfon Team achieved notoriety for their consumption of cooked breakfasts. They’d all gather in Morrison’s café in Upper Bangor at about 9-30 every morning and enjoy a fry-up, finally returning to their offices at about 11-30. ‘Service users’ who were being refused ‘help’ from this team on the grounds that they were ‘too busy’ would watch this ritual daily. It went on for years – that ‘team’ was jointly managed by Gwynedd Social Services and the North West Wales NHS Trust. Disciplinary action was never mentioned.

To finish, some news about Bangor University. The Daily Post online is taking delight in reporting that the University has once more performed brilliantly in terms of student satisfaction. Bangor has done well on this measure for years – there are a lot of staff, including admin staff, who are very committed to student welfare and love working with the students. The irony is that the man who is basking in the glory and bragging about it to the Daily Post is none other than Professor Oliver Turnbull, PVC for Teaching and Learning. Turnbull is best known for being sent on extended gardening leave a few years ago when an e mail that he wrote was leaked to ‘Private Eye’. A female psychology student had complained about being sexually harassed by a teaching assistant. Turnbull had responded by asking whether her complaint should be taken seriously or whether she should just be viewed as a poorly performing student who was seeking excuses. Turnbull accidentally cc’d the e mail to the student herself. It remains a mystery why he was ever appointed as PVC for Teaching and Learning after his suspension. One thing is certain. Bangor excelling in it’s support for students will have sod all to do with Oliver Turnbull. For more details of Oliver Turnbull and the School of Psychology that he runs, see post ‘He’s Not The Messiah, He’s A Very Naughty Boy’.

Author: Sally Baker

I am a writer and a sociologist, originally from Somerset, but I've been based in Wales for most of my life. I had my first encounter with a mental health professional in 1984 at the age of 21. My GP described this man to my then partner - who also became a sociologist - as someone who had experienced 'considerable success'. My meeting with this psychiatrist was a disaster and we attempted to complain about his insensitivity and highly inappropriate behaviour. That was the first time we were threatened and pressurised to withdraw a complaint against a mental health professional. This man is long dead - he was a retired psychiatrist from the North Wales Hospital Denbigh, T. Gwynne Williams, who was working shifts in the student health centre at University College of North Wales (now Bangor University). We discovered years later that this 'successful man' was notorious - he had been an enthusiastic lobotomist...

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