Saturday, March 05, 2011

Anonymous Interview With Birmingham LINK Core Group Member

Birmingham LINK Core Group member's Identity disguised

UserWatch was contacted by email by someone (CG Anon) who has served on the Birmingham Local Involvement Network (LINk) Core Group (a social care and health monitoring group consisting of volunteers who get expenses) and issues were raised of what is happening and has been happening at the Birmingham Local Involvement Network (LINk).

the Birmingham LINk will have cost £1.6 million by the time it ends in 2011 . It may transfer into a new Health Watch body which the Government seems to believe is the new way forwards . It may be dumped though too because of its awkward performances .

UW: What has made you want to speak out about the Birmingham LINk to UserWatch ?

CG ANON : Well the Birmingham Evening Mail first highlighted problems in early 2010 of what actually was caused by amateurism at the LINk . The training was poor and others too have made the points that the LINk became kind of locked into inaction or diversionary actions in 2009 . It had started poorly in 2008 convincing itself it had re-invent all the good practice wheels and to have a Core Group with elections for that.

That has ended up being an expensive mistake .

UW: How do you mean expensive ?

CG ANON : Well it has been expensive in a number of ways . The cost of LINk elections have been well over £3000 and I know of two at least and when you consider there has only been under 250 voters at best for a Birmingham wide body , the expense is just not justified. It creates lost opportunities for good work elsewhere . It diverts money unreasonably . These thngs are being said by other LINk members who want reform . The other sad fact is some people without real experience of being involved in the practical aspects of social care service user and health monitoring have been attracted to the LINk for the wrong reasons ......... Although I am not going to go into detail here. Maybe later ...

Expensive too, because the Core Group was supposed to be "strategic" in value and just has not been that at all . Several members of it are disgusted that even now we still do not have properly agreed upon Standard Operating Procedures that people have faith in.

UW : So you think there have been failures ?

CG ANON : Oh yes , and there has been a lack of serious and effective scrutiny on the LINk as to how it was performing and Birmingham City Council also missed a real chance to put matters right far earlier in 2009 because it treated the LINk far too independently.

The problem is too that the LINk Core Group appear to have played into the imperial belief that merely by going to a few meetings with people in in "higher places" and Bham City Council's Adult and Communities that somehow that was strategically representing the LINk . In fact some of us are aware that very poor reporting back about meeting has occured and therefore others on the LINK have not been tipped off about policy type directions that the services were travelling in . How was that strategic?

UW : So lets get this right . The LINk has a small voter base and that could give rise to just a few people with their supporters determining its directions and its is also poorly performance managed by Birmingham Council ?

CG ANON : Yes , that is an interpretation that quite a few people have come to . This is why elected LINk Core Groups do not make sense and it has been said more recently by disheartened LINk members that a qualification for working on the LINK has to be a working and performance managed one.

UW: Are you saying that elected representation is bad then ?

CG ANON : Of course not . Democracy matters but the LINk really ought to be about performance driven engagements and monitoring social care and health services . It should not be driven by using precious money to pay for elections that cannot be justified on a voter base that shows that not enough Birmingham people are not interested in that.

The LINk has really missed the point too of not seeing there is already a elected representative base in the local councilors that should have been really engaged with . Why duplicate that idea and actually do it badly ?

UW: So what is the solution .

CG ANON: Well it has to be down to getting well trained people who can do the volunteer job of properly monitoring social care and health services with performance managed methods and there is no doubt some of the more genuine action groups on the LINk have developed those alone with little Core Group input because the experience was not always inside the Core Group, although some has been .

UW: Yeah, but what about public engagement and how could you build that with those ideas?

CG ANON : Well.... I can now see some of the action groups on the LINk have got it right in so far as they build public interest and engagement by practical actions that create reputation and a few of them have been showing this . The problem is we may have got wiser too late and this kind of way forwards should have been happening inside 2009 which was wasted on creating election structures and endless changing rules which we might have adopted from pre-existing good practice sources .

UW: So who is to blame or at fault here

CG ANON : Well I have read up a great deal now after coming into the Local Involvement Network scene . The Department of Health of course dismantled so much under the last Labour Govt . First , the Community Health Councils went and the Commission body which steered the next phase of patient and public involvement development were under orders not to allow CHC's as they lost power , to interfere with the then 2003 created Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Forums .

You can read these things inside records of parliamentary proceedings. The LINk idea was yet another change in 2008 which broke faith inside people some of whom were good PPI health monitors and many left the arena which meant inexperience took over again and again.

Inexperience when its not properly assisted either or checked properly by the Local Authority that should have performance managed its contract with more backbone finally creates its own defensive lack of insights . Failure is difficult to own . That has been been said by a few people now on the Birmingham LINk

It appears too no manuals of PPI good practice were created as exit strategies and therefore loss of experienced people also meant loss of a monitoring culture. This culture of public volunteers who can monitor service behaviour well is for instance really needed inside issues of learning disability , dementia , physical disability, and parts of mental health where finally the patient choice culture may not be the future driver for more quality .

UW : Okay, thanks for the email exchanges with parts of UserWatch . Are you going to keep in touch?

CG ANON : Well no doubt UserWatch will be monitoring the Birmingham LINk . I hope you are fair and see that a few people meant well but as for others you can judge for yourself . I will stay in touch and keep a watch on you lot too .

UW : We love attention and we have a few people in Birmingham that we will contact to keep these channels open that watch the LINk . It all sounds a bit sad really but thanks for speaking out .



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