15/02/14 They eat their own children…don’t they?

During the first, second and probably every other war there’s ever been, combatants have been encouraged, cajoled and indoctrinated to distance themselves from their foes.

They’re not like you…they’re monsters…cockroaches…they…

It was a hugely diluted version of this otherness, this I’m not like themness, I felt as we drove to meet the commissioners who had cut the funding to Safe Haven.

They’d had a public meeting a week or so before this – I’d raised some questions by email that I wanted to raise at their public meeting – they got back promptly saying they felt that these issues would be best addressed in a private, more formal meeting with them.

I spoke to some people who have worked in the area and they agreed that I was right to feel some hope alongside my trepidation.

Janice, the manager of Safe Haven, remained sceptical.

These were the people who cut the funding to Safe Haven because the bid was 8 minutes late.

£104 thousand cut because of 8 minutes.

That’s £13 thousand for every minute.

We arrived at the corporate building with it’s rooms named with inspirational/ aspirational titles that I’d only sneered at on BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’.

What they found motivational, I found embarrassing.

Scratch that – maybe they found it embarrassing too.

They had a pre meeting meeting – we were kept waiting somewhere between 5 or 10 minutes before we were invited in.

We were ushered in and there they were – four folk sitting round a table – smiling – welcoming.

At the back of my mind I recharged those positive thoughts – these people were in these posts for a reason. They must have a history of working in the mental health area – they must have an interest – a passion for this sort of thing.

They’re not monsters. They never were – looking around the table we had more similarities than differences.

However…my optimism had been misplaced.

We’d been informed by letter, by phone conversation and now, here by meeting, that the funding remained cut because the submission had been 8 minutes late.

There was nothing new.

Just a reiteration of the reiteration.

‘Whats the purpose of commissioning?’ I asked.

Head commissioning service man responded with things like…best services for folk with mental health problems…more bangs for the tax payer’s buck.

In amongst my, admittedly flared nostrilled, responses I asked how this dogmatic adherence to time fitted with best value for money. This isn’t EBay after all.

The question was raised, ‘Is this procurement law?’

Well…no it isn’t…it’s NHS policy/ guidelines.

So there’s scope for flexibility?

No there isn’t.

How would we feel if one of the other voluntary organisations had submitted late and had been awarded funding?

I stopped short of saying, ‘I wouldn’t give a flying fuck,’ but I think the answers around the table implied that.

If they were concerned about the response of the other voluntary organisations in Northants, there are only 16, why didn’t they contact them, ask them…an hour or two’s work…’Safe Haven have submitted their bid a bit late…is that ok with you?’

Easy. None of the other organisations provide what Safe Haven does…an out of hours service that responds to a person’s definition of crisis – counselling by qualified and experienced staff – with scope for follow up and a drop in service including transport.

We have a 10 roomed, comfortable building, plus an emergency flat provided FREE by Corby Borough council.

The other voluntary agencies in the area compliment our work, and we compliment theirs.

Surely if only they’d been asked…?

How long would that have taken the commissioners?

We divert folk away from statutory, 999 services – people who feel stressed, out of control, in crisis during those, oh so inconvenient, out of normal working times come to us.

We save tax payers money at the same time providing people with what they need at the time they need it.

If need be we signpost folk to statutory services to ensure their safety.

That feels like a lot of bangs for bucks.

However…the contracts had already gone out…that was it…there was no money.

Head commissioner man told us he was satisfied that they had commissioned the right services for the good folk of Corby.

So, how do we reassure our existing service users? Where do we direct them for out of hours…

They can’t tell us – not until the contracts are returned from the successful bidders.

I suggested – quite strongly – that the whole system appears to be service led – meeting the needs of the organisation before it meets of the punter.

I said it was ridiculous.

8 minutes.

Head commissioner person chastised me for my choice of language. I apologised.

I hereby withdraw that apology.

8 minutes.

As a social worker I was often a complete pain in the arse. I would write to managers who came up with policies to save money – telling them if we implemented all of their nonsense we’d be breaking the law and that I’d be encouraging our clients to complain…

Oh how we laughed…but that was another world.

Shit happens when good people do nothing…or some such.

I raised the point that mainstream NHS psychiatric services in Northamptonshire were about to be cut by £2.6 million…and that, although they’re a good idea, putting the service user in control of their own care and support, direct payments and personal budgets were proving to be a challenge for both health and social care in the county.

Blank faces…surprise.

And there’s another problem – different organisations jealously guarding their budgets – no, we don’t do that, that must fall under your umbrella of care…

Silos of care each in a protective tower with a very definite fiefdom…nobody with an overall view…

Except for the voluntary sector – interestingly referred to as the third sector – who are there, doing their best…

Oh, and the punters of course. With time you learn what’s available – sometimes playing the system to get what you need..

Head honcho commissioner questioned our assertions that we supported and diverted – he lacked evidence…

Evidence they’d received many times over the past 15 years.

He justified.

We polarised.

We stopped short of calling each other names…just.

Time came to our rescue.

We all shook hands. I told one of the commissioners that he and I had played for the same Sunday league football team when we were 12 – managed by his Dad…his dad had worked with mine at the steelworks.

He has a history of working in the voluntary sector in mental health. He has both depth and breadth of knowledge. As I’m sure the head of commissioning has.

They didn’t go into this to torture voluntary sector services – they went into this, I imagine, full of hope and desire that they could make a difference.

I believe – I may be right or wrong here – that in this instance though they’ve made a big mistake. To dismiss a service purely because a submission is eight minutes late is, in my opinion, just plain wrong.

BUT, even with this in mind, after the dust has settled, after I’ve unflared my nostrils, these are people on the same side as us. They are fighting the same battles – they’ll have pressures coming from all directions.

They don’t eat their babies.

They’ve just left us with an awful lot of work to do.

Walk a mile

Chris

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