A humbling NHS experience, a media row and a good GB speech
Posted on 12 June 2009 | 10:06am
What a truly
inspiring and humbling time I had at the new Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit at
Rathbone hospital in Liverpool yesterday.
It was not just the evident quality of care being provided for a small number
of seriously ill men. It was also the clear emphasis that was put on making
sure the views of service users and carers were taken into account in the way
the place was run. Mersey Care NHS Trust should be really proud of what they
I first knew of the Liverpool PICU when Anne Evans, who
herself has mental health problems, contacted me asking for a letter with good
wishes for the unit.
I was not alone. Dotted around the walls are framed messages, photos and
letters from dozens of people as varied as Roger Moore, Kevin Spacey, Liz Taylor,
Carla Lane and the pop group Madness. She had even managed to get one from chef
Raymond Blanc for the dining room.
Service users and families had been involved in the design, (and even won an
award for the windows,) the colours on the walls, some of the layout.
What I saw and heard gave me plenty to talk about in my speech on stigma and
discrimination to the NHS Confederation in Liverpool later in the day. I gave
the NHS plenty of praise, not least because of what I had just seen, but also a
bit of a kicking because only 12 per cent of the NHS has signed up to the Time
to Change campaign aimed at changing attitudes to mental illness. And I read
out a comment posted on yesterday’s blog from an NHS employee who said the NHS
as an employer needed to do more to tackle stigma in its own back yard.
It was a bigger audience than I had been expecting and it is always
interesting for a speaker to see which bits go down better than others.
The three occasions on which my remarks were interrupted by unexpected applause
were first, when I said that whatever the pressures there should be more
investment not less in psychiatric services because it would also help the
government’s goals on crime, education, family policy. Second, when I
criticised the media for the constant linking of mental illness and violence
when the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than
perpetrators. And third, in the q and a moderated by Sarah Montague of the
Today programme, when I said the media did not paint an accurate portrayal of
any part of our national life.
Sarah did that very defensive thing journalists tend to do, saying I was
‘blaming the media’. I wasn’t. I was simply saying that if the media only
covered what they deemed to be bad about politics and public life, we should
not be surprised if people got a skewed vision of the world. I think – and I
hope – that she was somewhat taken aback by the evident support for the notion
that the culture of negativity had gone too far.
I also criticised David Cameron (lots
of nods but no spontaneous applause for this one) for the way he slapped down
Tory MP Nadine Dorries when she expressed worries that the MPs’ expenses furore
would lead someone to suicide. She was right to express concern at the way the
witchhunt was going.
One of the event’s sponsors had very kindly bought hundreds of copies of my
novel, All In The Mind, to hand out to delegates so thanks for that.
Good day, saw a lot, learned a lot, hopefully helped a bit in the anti-stigma
Then back to London for a Labour fundraiser at Stamford Bridge.
Good venue. Sneaked a look in the away dressing rooms to see where Burnley
would be changing. Met a woman called Helen who said she once snogged Wade
Elliott whose goal at Wembley secured promotion.
GB spoke really well
about four preconditions for electoral success – sorting the economy, sorting
politics post expenses, showing we have the right policy agenda for the future
and setting out the contrast offered by the choice of the Tories.
I took both my mother
and Fiona’s mother with me, to add a little glamour to the evening, and both
said Gordon’s speech was as good as they had heard. While nobody was in any
doubt how hard the task ahead is going to be, there was definitely a bit of
hope in the air.