Saturday, 30 April 2011

Letter to the Thurrock Gazette

So Jackie Doyle-Price is against the change to the Alternative Vote system - who could have possibly predicted that?  Well, everyone really.  Apart from the fact that the Conservatives do very well with the first-past-the-post system we currently have, Ms Doyle-Price is well known for not rebelling against her party's edicts.

My concern about this state of affairs is that Ms Doyle-Price is supposed to be the elected representative for the residents of Thurrock so what happens if her constituents have views that are the polar opposite of the Conservative party?  Yes, she was elected but how many people actually voted for her and how many didn't vote in the election at all due to the lack of any worthy candidates?  Is Ms Doyle-Price one of those MPs who got elected on fewer than 50% of the electorate?

In my opinion, MPs should only be allowed to explain the options open to their constituents on the subject of the referendum on the Alternative Vote system and should not be allowed to make their own opinions known.  As Ms Doyle-Price is a Conservative who, due to her reluctance to rebel against her party, is little more than a Tory drone with no apparent autonomous decision making skills, she should be even more careful of giving 'her' views in a column for the Gazette.

The decision on how we vote for MPs is up to the Great British public and to make that decision we should be given the facts about the options and not party political propaganda designed to frighten voters one way or the other.

Return of the revenge of the Thurrock local election running commentary

With less than a week to go until Election Day, the Grays Riverside candidates, apart from Labour, have been conspicuous by their absence.
I was hoping for some sparkling debate on my doorstep with people who were enthusiastically trying to get my vote; instead I have been given even less incentive to use my vote at all.  I haven’t even received any campaign literature from any of them either.

If a person decides that they wish to represent the residents in their ward, surely they should be prepared to meet them?  They should make the effort to show that they care about their constituency and the people in it, not just turn up at the Polling Station on the day of the election with a self-satisfied grin on their face and hoping that a quick handshake will get the people to vote for them.

If only the other candidates would make an effort then more people might make the effort to go out and vote rather than complaining about being in a safe seat for one party or another; in my case, a safe Labour seat.

We live in a democracy, apparently, but our representatives, both local and national, seem to be elected on a smaller proportion of the electorate each election.  This is wrong.  People fought and died for our right to have free democratic elections and to throw that sacrifice back in their faces by not voting is the highest insult.  That said, how can the electorate truly be inspired to vote when the people who wish to represent them refuse to make the effort to show they care about the position they wish to fill?  At the moment, the only impression the prospective candidates are giving is one of complete indifference and that only feeds into the view many people hold of politicians as people who are only in politics to feather their own nests with allowances and expenses.

Someone has to change the system to make candidates for public office truly work for their position and, if they fail to do so, the system must have procedures in place to remove them from the electoral process in favour of someone who will.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The case for the legalisation of brothels in the UK

In a time of economic hardship such as the UK is now in, I believe that a solution to extra tax revenue is being over-looked due to what would seem to be a rather old-fashioned, head-in-the-sand attitude.  That solution would be to open licensed, legal brothels.  Now, I can imagine that there will be a few raised eyebrows at that suggestion but I believe that it is a reasonable solution that has nothing but positive benefits for society.

One of the arguments against legalising brothels is that it somehow encourages prostitution; this is a fallacy because prostitution goes on regardless.  Some women have no option but to turn to prostitution to survive and it is these women who will benefit the most from the legalisation of brothels.  Rather than risking their lives on the streets, potential prey for any rapist or abusive clients, they would have scheduled appointments in a location away from any family they may have and to whom they do not wish to draw undue embarrassment.  The brothel manager would employ the women; meaning that there would be extra income from the tax and National Insurance payments each employee would be paying.  And I am quite sure that the Government would make sure that ‘sexual services’ would be subject to Value Added Tax although as a lot of MPs take advantage of these types of services, perhaps, they wouldn’t be inclined to make them VATable.

Legalising brothels would bring in revenue from the sale of licenses (subject to approval) and have the effect of removing an unsightly problem from the streets of towns and cities.

A major advantage would also be that legalised brothels would ensure that illegal prostitution would be minimised and the spread of sexually transmitted infections would likewise be reduced due to regular screening for STIs.  The health benefits of STI screening would reduce the cost of treating those infections on the National Health Service, a massive benefit at a time of cuts in NHS funding.

The women who are forced by circumstances to turn to prostitution would be safely taken out of the hands of exploitative and/or abusive pimps and given some degree of safety on premises that could be visited on a regular basis by the police or some form of Local Authority inspector to ensure that the environment is a safe one.  Legalised brothels would also enable the industry to have standardised pricing for their services, ensuring that those women unfortunate enough to have to provide those services are not being unduly exploited, as the prices would include a percentage that would go towards the upkeep of the brothel and the management personnel costs.

Prostitution is a problem that is not going to go away whether it is legalised or not but if it were legalised at least it would provide a shot in the arm for the economy and safety for the women who provide the services and their clients.

I'm watching you, "Call Me Dave" Cameron!

Tomorrow, the UK is going to be gripped in a wave of patriotic flag waving because of the Royal wedding.  I, however, will not be joining the rest of the country, as I believe that we are being distracted from more important matters by all the media attention being given to the wedding.

I don’t really see what all the fuss is about as the Royal family has become nothing but a joke in the last couple of decades and, without trying to doom the marriage before it’s happened, I really don’t think that it’ll last that long.  I give it about six years which is my most generous estimate but I really don’t think it’ll last as long as that.

While the rest of the country is being distracted by the shiny-shiny event, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the bad news that the Coalition Government will be trying to bury amongst the flag waving crap.  I will point out the bad news I find and hope people will listen but I somehow doubt they will.  Most people these days can’t handle thinking about more than one thing at a time and the Government is taking advantage of that fact.

Tomorrow should be interesting, if only to see how devious this Government is prepared to be.

Electoral reform (Saw style)!

We are a week away from the day of reckoning on the Alternative Vote referendum but will it truly be an acceptable change if it goes through?  Nick Clegg once said that AV was a miserable little compromise compared with the other alternatives in the electoral reform debate.  In my opinion, I don’t think AV will make MPs more accountable, likable or more trustworthy so I have come up with a rather outlandish and controversial version of electoral reform that will ensure that MPs will actually do what’s best for their constituents rather than what’s best for their party or themselves.

I am a fan of the Saw film franchise and believe that we can learn a lot from Jigsaw’s philosophy, perhaps not his methods but I think we should go with something I believe would work.  Not only would this idea help get a truly representative set of MPs but it would help with our ever-growing population problem.

Prospective candidates for public office would be taken to a location with traps similar to the ones in the Saw films and they would be hooked up to portable lie detector machines.  The candidates would then have to go around our trap-laden location in which people from their constituency will be caught up in the middle of dilemmas that will result in their serious injury or death if the candidate is not willing to do what is necessary to rescue them at the expense of pain for themselves.  During the whole experience, the candidates would also be asked questions that would reveal their true intentions for running for office – self-interest or the public good – and, should they lie, the trap in the room will be triggered and the candidate will suffer the consequences in pain and mutilation.  By the end of the trial by fire, we will truly have representative MPs who will do what’s best for the country as a whole because it will be ingrained in their thinking due to the experience.  We’d also have hours of reality television programming to broadcast.  Just think of the money we could make on the DVD sales alone!

I want to play a game. 

You are seeking public office but are you prepared to do what is best for the people you represent or are you seeking only to benefit yourself?  Are you telling your constituents the truth when you say you wish to represent them for their benefit?

In the traps that lie ahead of you are members of your constituency.  Are you prepared to do what is necessary to save them, knowing that you will have to endure pain to do so?

You are also hooked up to a lie detector that will trigger the trap in the room in which you are standing and cause you pain through increasingly high electric shocks.  Are you prepared to tell the truth to save your constituent?

You have sixty minutes to prove your worthiness for public office.

Let the games begin!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Revenge of the Thurrock local election running commentary

It really comes to something when prospective candidates for a seat on the council neither post campaign literature nor knock on people’s doors with little over a week until the day of the election.  Is it a lack of commitment that stays their hand?  A lack of campaign funds?  Or is it that they really don’t care?

I always imagined that people would be falling over themselves trying to secure my vote so that they could start to claim expenses and any payments for attending meetings and so forth.  I don’t believe that there is a shortage of money to be made as a councillor as it seems to me that all politicians seem to make a packet out of what they term their ‘civic duty’ or ‘public service’.  So where are all the candidates?

I know from experience that putting yourself in the public eye can backfire on you in the most awful ways but, if you really want to change things for the better and make a difference in your local area, surely you should have the strength of your conviction to face the people who you wish to represent?  And if you don’t, you shouldn’t run for public office.

I would imagine that the unsuccessful candidates would be the first to complain that no one voted for them and that they were a better choice for the seat on the council than their competitors but I doubt that they would see it as their fault.  They would blame the constituents in their ward for not having made the correct choice despite the fact that they made no efforts in outlining the alternative options that they represent.

It’s not rocket science.  Come to convince us to vote for you or shut up and stop whinging when you’re not elected!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Return of the Thurrock local election running commentary

Well, it’s been a week since the Labour candidate knocked on my door and there has still been no sign of the other candidates.  Is it any wonder that the Grays Riverside Ward is a safe Labour stronghold?  Don’t the other candidates realise that there is very little time left to convince me, and others, to vote for them?  One has to question whether the other candidates really want to represent their neighbours on the council or if they feel that each party has to put someone forward but, as they feel they don’t have a chance of winning the seat, don’t bother to knock on doors.

It seems to me that, with the lack of motivation from the other candidates, there is really no mystery behind the low voter turnout at local elections.  I mean, if the candidates can’t be bothered, why should we?

I have said, in my Your Thurrock blog, that I will vote for the person who convinces me to vote for them but it seems to me that the Labour candidate will get my vote by default and that’s just not right.  It’s also not right that the Labour candidate should apparently win the seat on the council without a fight.  Let’s face it – it’s undemocratic.

I can’t do anything about it this year and, as such, I will not be voting in the election unless another candidate visits me with sufficient time for me to properly consider which one deserves my vote.  It is a great pity as my vote could have decided which political party gains control of the council.

With such lacklustre competition in the Grays Riverside election, if I had the money to run a campaign, I would throw my hat into the ring as an independent candidate when the next seat comes up for grabs just so that the democratic process is properly adhered to.  I doubt I’d win the seat but no one should gain a seat on the council without a proper fight, which is the situation in which we apparently find ourselves now.

How many other floating voters are out there just waiting for someone to knock on their door to give them a choice in who represents them on the council?  I can’t be the only one, can I?  Or has the idea of democracy died here in Thurrock?  There are twelve days left including the day of the election.  Will anyone bother to vie for my vote in that time or will my voting card be left unused again this year?  Time is running out!

Thurrock local election running commentary 1

This was originally submitted to Your Thurrock but it wasn't posted so here it is.

The first shots in the war to win my vote were taken last Saturday (16 April) when the Labour candidate for the Grays Riverside ward took up the challenge to convince me to vote for her.  Amazingly, it really was the candidate and not one of the party faithful who knocked on my door so I have awarded her some bonus points.

Starting off with the initial question of whether I’ve voted for Labour in the past and after telling her that I was willing to be convinced this time around, the candidate launched into her sales pitch.  I have to say that for someone who claimed not to have read my blog, she was certainly saying everything I wanted to hear – that she was willing to put aside party politics and work together with all parties in the interest of doing what’s right for the community and so on – and that started alarm bells ringing.  Was she really telling the truth or telling me what I wanted to hear because she had either read, or was told the substance of, my blog?  Politicians aren’t particularly known for telling the truth when they are fishing for votes and her comments did seem as if they had been prepared.

If the candidate in question has decided to read my blogs in the future then she may well believe from this mini-blog that she has no hope of convincing me but she’d be wrong as I am reserving judgement until the other candidates have had a crack at me.  One thing is for certain, Grays Riverside Ward is a Labour stronghold, being held entirely by that party, but the voter turn out in that ward is terribly low and with control of Thurrock Council on a knife-edge, each candidate is going to have to pull out all the stops regardless of whether they are in a relatively safe seat or not.  All it will take is for one candidate to convince more people to make the effort to go out and vote and control of the council could swing towards another party or solidify the position as it is now.

There are four more candidates in Grays Riverside Ward – Conservative, Liberal Democrat, UKIP and BNP – and there isn’t much time to go before the election.  Come on, you guys, come and get my vote!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Why can't we all just get along?

The trouble with the world is that there are so many ideological differences – in politics, in religion and so on – and it is these differences that stop people getting along with one another.

To take politics in the UK, for example, the major political parties are separated by the way they view human beings, whether they can get along with each other or whether they need to be told what to do.  There is never going to be any acceptable middle ground in this type of ideological conflict.  Socialists believe that humans will inevitably form communities due to our social nature and that these communities should look after those less able to look after themselves, which leads to them increasing public spending on social benefits and public services that, supposedly, make our society a more equal one.  Conservatives are traditionalists who believe that humans are imperfect and, therefore, require a more authoritarian rule to keep them in order.  Conservatives seem, on the whole, to be more in favour of cutting public spending and making people stand on their own two feet whilst maintaining an authoritarian control on them.  Liberals, on the other hand, believe in the individual’s right for freedom, reason and justice whilst ensuring that the society they build is a tolerant one.  A liberal society is meant to be a meritocracy in which individuals rise due to their labours and not through wealth.

Now, while liberals and socialists are closer in their views of human beings as social creatures, the liberal idea of a meritocracy does not really fit with the socialist view of the redistribution of wealth to the less fortunate and neither view works with the conservative view of the human race.  And so the dispute over which view is superior and/or correct continues.  This, of course, makes it so much harder to have a government that actually deals with the problems that the society they rule over presents them because they are always fighting with each other on purely ideological grounds, scoring points off the other party simply to prove who is right.  Surely a better way would be for ideological differences to be put aside so that society’s problems could be solved in a spirit of co-operation?

Now I think we’ll look at the problems of religion…

I think that it is almost a universal constant in the different religions that peace and love is at the centre of them, however, it is also true that there seems to be inherent in most religions a lack of tolerance for views that oppose the view of the religion in question.  Judaism is, for the most part, Christianity without the mucky New Testament and Jesus stuff that they disagree with.  Jesus in the eyes of the Jews is certainly not the Son of God.  Muslim beliefs also follow a similar path to Christianity with certain differences and it is really just a matter of how God is worshipped that separates the three religions.  Christianity has also found itself split apart into different breakaway sects or churches based on interpretations of the Holy Bible, which thankfully have not turned into major conflicts for dominance.

Some Islamists, however, have allowed a certain interpretation to turn a disagreement on who’s right into a violent conflict that has devastating consequences for the entire world.  Surely a better way would be to agree to disagree on the exact nature of how God should be worshipped and just concentrate on praising whatever deity, force or intelligence you happen to be believe in, in a spirit of mutual toleration and, though I hate the term, brotherly and sisterly love?  Surely what matters is an individual’s personal connection with their deity of choice and not how or who other people choose to worship?

Wouldn’t life be better if we just forgot all the differences, celebrate them, for sure, but try to get along?  The human race will be stuck in a cycle of pointless conflicts if we don’t put aside our differences for the sake of all.

Elisabeth Sladen - gone but never forgotten

Last night I heard the sad news that Elisabeth Sladen passed away after a battle with cancer.  I did not know her personally but, along with thousands of other Doctor Who fans, I thought of her as a friend.  Lis played the role of Sarah Jane Smith for three and a half seasons alongside the late Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, becoming one of the most popular companions to the infamous Time Lord.

A stronger female character than some of her predecessors, the rapport between Lis and the lead actors she worked with could be seen on screen in every scene they played together and created some of the most emotional scenes Doctor Who ever had.  Sarah Jane Smith was, to all intents and purposes, a personal friend to every Doctor Who fan and, by extension, so was Lis Sladen.

The popularity of her character was such that she returned to play the role in the only spin-off from the ‘classic’ series, K9 and Company, although the hoped for series never actually came to fruition but that was not the last fans would see of Sarah Jane as she made an appearance in the twentieth anniversary story, The Five Doctors, in 1983.  Even then, Lis would return to the role in her own series of audio adventures, Sarah Jane Smith, for Big Finish before returning to the small screen for appearances in the new Doctor Who and finally being given a series of her own, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

During the period between her regular appearances in the ‘classic’ series and her return in the new series of Doctor Who, Lis returned to Liverpool to take up work in the theatre and raise a family, a brave decision at a time when she was a very in-demand television actress but one she never regretted.  Her return to Doctor Who came as a pleasant surprise that resurrected her television career and Lis became a role model for a new generation of children, a gift I hope they appreciate.

My own personal memories of Lis are of the first time I met her at a Doctor Who signing in London.  I had no idea that signings happened or that there were so many fans as I seemed to be the only Doctor Who fan I knew so I turned up to my first ever signing, half an hour after the start of the event, to find a mile-long queue of fans.  The signing continued well after it was supposed to have finished but Lis had insisted that everyone who had come would go away with an autograph and that they did.  She managed to smile through the whole event, remaining cheerful and friendly, and making sure that all the fans had a good time.  It was thanks to Lis’ wonderful attitude that I became a regular attendee at signings, hoping to see her at any conventions I managed to afford to get to and, thanks to her wonderful portrayal in the series, kept me able to handle my depression as well as I did.

Lis Sladen was a wonderful, enthusiastic, warm and engaging actress and an equally wonderful person who will be sadly missed by all her ‘friends’ in the Doctor Who fan community.  The Universe will be a little less bright from now on.

Rest In Peace, Lis.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The royal wedding and the art of distraction

Before I start, I should just say that I have nothing against the British royal family, I really don’t, but that said, I have to ask – what’s the big deal with the up-coming wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton?  Let’s face it, he is an upper class, privileged toff and she’s an upper middle class woman.  This is hardly the class-breaking event that it is made out to be.  If it were a match between William and a single mother on benefits, that would be something to read about.  I also don’t see why it should be a cause for celebration for the whole country at a time of austerity measures not seen for decades with services being cut, benefits being cut or reduced and people losing their jobs left, right and centre.

Surely, at a time of economic hardship, this wedding is being used by the Government as a way of distracting us from more important matters such as the destruction of the National Health Service, the closing of public libraries, tackling global warming and the increasing rise in the cost of fuel.  It makes no sense to me that the media is jumping on the royal wedding bandwagon by giving us a blow by blow account of every second and every possible detail the general public shouldn’t really care about but does simply because we’re told that we should care.

From the moment the royal wedding was announced, the Active Citizen Entitlement Partnership group in Thurrock, that provides free training courses for people who wish to become active citizens, advertised a course on how to organise your own street party, based solely on the royal wedding.  I could not believe my eyes when I saw it and have become angrier with every piece of coverage this wedding and its preparations are getting.

There are much more important things to be worrying about at the moment than a stupid royal wedding.  I am more concerned with whether the NHS will become an increasingly privatised organisation leading, inevitably, to a two-tier health service where the best treatment is given to those who can afford it and the dregs being left to those on low incomes.  I am more concerned with the poor state of the mental health provision in my local area.  I am more concerned with the widening gap between rich and poor.  I am more concerned with the fact that the UK is giving billions of pounds to other countries whilst the Coalition Government cut our services to the bone.  And lastly, I am concerned that people are being distracted by an insignificant one-off event by the Government and the media so that more important matters that affect everyone in the country are left unexamined and unquestioned by the public at large.

I am left to wonder – am I the only person in the UK who sees what is happening and is scared at the public’s inability or unwillingness to care?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Doing what's right

Last night, I came under some criticism for having posted a link on my Facebook page to a film on YouTube that contained scenes of animal cruelty at a research centre hired by Iams, the pet food manufacturer.  I was told that I had been “bloody irresponsible” to post the footage, which is technically inaccurate as I only posted a link to it but we shall move on.  I clearly annotated the link with the following message - “Look at this film. The abuse of these animals is disgusting. Iams should be shut down for such deplorable acts.”  This annotation should have been warning enough about the contents of the footage and will have given the reader the option to move on without watching it.

What I find offensive is the idea that warning people of the cruelty being performed on helpless animals is being “bloody irresponsible”.  Now, I know that I am not a professional journalist, merely a reasonably talented amateur, but I have always, in all the magazines I have written for and edited, acted in the best traditions of journalism – to find the truth and report the facts, to uncover injustice and to try to do what is right for the public good.  I believe that posting a link that I have been directed to that highlights such a cruel injustice to animals that we, as a race, have domesticated for our benefit, for companionship, is the right thing to do.  The irresponsible thing to do would be to ignore the terrible treatment being inflicted on these poor animals for if we ignore historical events and refuse to learn the lessons they teach us, we will be forever doomed to repeat them.

I do not lecture on the cruelty faced by farm animals because I eat meat and therefore benefit from that cruelty, despite the fact that I deplore the cruelty they face as well.  I would be the most gigantic hypocrite if damned the cruelty faced by farm animals whilst still continuing to eat meat, wear leather, etc, although I do try, as far as possible to avoid products that have been tested on animals.  Domesticated animals such as dog and cats, however, are not food animals and have been domesticated for our selfish need to have companionship and, therefore, we have a duty to them beyond our duty to all animals because we took them out of the food chain and made them our pets.

If cruelty happens, it is the duty of all animal lovers to disseminate the relevant facts and video evidence so that action can be taken against the companies or individuals who perpetrate that cruelty.  In the case of the footage I put a link to on my Facebook page, the only action that I, as an individual, can do is to disseminate the link and immediately stop purchasing the Iams products that I buy for my cat.  As a group, animal lovers can stop buying Iams and can launch a protest movement but only if they have the information disseminated by individuals like myself.

I do not feel as though I have to defend my actions regarding what I do or do not post on my Facebook page as long as I do what I think is right and what is in the public interest.  After all, isn’t doing what we believe to be right what we are supposed to do?

Monday, 11 April 2011

On The Assessment Ward

I was going through some of my papers at home and I found this unfinished account of my stay in the Mental Health Unit’s Assessment Unit following my suicide attempt in February 2010.  It was actually written while I was still in the Assessment Unit so the events were fresh in my mind at the time.  It is presented here for your consideration.

You’d think that people who are in the middle of a mental health crisis would be treated with a bit of respect and compassion and you’d be right…up until you’re transferred to the Mental Health Unit for assessment.  Suddenly, you become a prisoner with few, if any, human rights.  Your possessions are rifled through and you are put in a room and interrogated, albeit gently.

I had the dubious pleasure of being sent to the Mental Health Unit after I took an overdose on Friday 12th February although my first port of call was the Accident and Emergency Department where I may have been kept waiting for hours but I was always checked on and treated with a little common decency.  I was in and out of consciousness for most of Friday night, being brought around every so often to answer questions or have my blood pressure, pulse and temperature monitored.  I was also, to all intents and purposes, hallucinating wildly, sometimes coming around to find myself talking to people or reaching out for things that I could have sworn were there just seconds beforehand even though I knew that I had been unconscious.

I was transferred to another ward during the night but was only there for a short while before being transferred again to my final destination before the Mental Health Unit, Kingswood Ward.

Kingswood is a series of connected rooms with around four beds in each and I was in a room with three other men, the youngest of which couldn’t have been younger than fifty.  I was slowly spending less time unconscious and was thus able to get a better impression of the staff.  The nurses, overworked as most are, remained surprisingly cheerful and were very friendly with the patients which made for a pleasant atmosphere, something you really need when you’re stuck in an environment full of sick people with the beeps, buzzes and clicks of various machines.  The other support staff were of a similar disposition and it was a pleasure, if a stay in hospital can be called a pleasure, to stay in that ward.  However, just as I was settling into Kingswood, I was transferred to the Mental Health Unit.

It was here that the transformation of patient in crisis to prisoner took place.  I was bundled into a room where I was made to go through the questions I had already answered several times before – did I smoke, do drugs, drink alcohol, why did I try to kill myself? – giving the same answers each and every time.  I was taken to another room to have my blood pressure and pulse checked and my weight measured before going back to the first room to go through all the questions again, this time with a doctor.  The doctor then took me to the other room again to check my blood pressure before returning to the first room where I was left by myself for what seemed like hours.

When I was finally shown to my room, I was made to empty my bags and pockets and the contents scrutinised.  My dressing gown’s belt, my suitcase, my MP3 player and my deodorant were taken from me as contraband.  The whole process left me feeling violated and persecuted.  And to add insult to injury, once you’ve entered the Assessment Unit, you’re not allowed to leave, even for just a short walk accompanied by a member of staff.

So what kind of treatment do you receive?  In a word, none.  You end up just sitting in the combined dining and activity room, watching television with the other inmates, occasionally being called out to answer the same old questions.  The staff may be around but they don’t seem to be doing much in the way of observing the patients.

The only disruption to the constant watching of television are the meals and the talks with people who have obviously not read the copious notes that have been made by all the other people you’ve answered questions for, which is both a massive duplication of effort and extremely traumatic for the person in crisis.

© Myles Cook, 14/02/2010

As you can see, this account is unfinished and doesn’t cover some of the other points that it needs to, such as being locked out of your room during the day, the meals that were of a much lower quality than the one I got on Kingswood, the lack of activities suitable for male patients and the fact that the television is in a sealed cabinet on the wall making it impossible to change the channel.  I could go on but I won’t because, at some point, I will finish this account, either as part of a book or as a follow up to this column.

SEPT - A Well-Oiled PR Machine

A few months ago, I was interviewed on Your Thurrock about the accusations levelled at South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (SEPT) by Dr Blandford and I was said to be “defending” them.  Thanks to that interview, I have been told stories that would make your hair stand on end and the service I have received from Grays Hall Outpatients Department have led me to reconsider my opinion of the mental health provision in Thurrock.

Until recently, I was associated with local voluntary organisations and interest groups and, as such, couldn’t speak my mind as freely as I can now, without my opinions and comments reflecting badly on those groups.  Released from those associations, I can now give my honest opinions of SEPT.  Hold tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride from here on in…

SEPT are a mental health provider who seem to be more efficient at Public Relations than they are providing a good service to the service users of Thurrock.  A well-oiled PR machine, SEPT publish a magazine called One In Four News that is really nothing more than a SEPT love-in and seems predominently concerned with the newly aquired areas of Bedfordshire and Luton rather than the South Essex area for which it is primarily responsible.  If you read their magazine, you would believe that SEPT has no problems but that is a false impression.  If you look more closely at the provision in Thurrock, you will find an alarming inconsistency of care.

SEPT make the claim in an advertising poster that they aim to have service users seen by the same doctor each and every time they go for an appointment.  This is a claim that they cannot back up in Thurrock as, for Grays Hall Outpatients Department at least, the staff turnover is horrendous.  Some service users are lucky in that they do see the same doctor each time but for an increasing number of service users, that is just a hopeful fantasy that will probably go unrealised because SEPT do not pay attention to the concerns raised.  And raised they were, at a “Take It To The Top” meeting, where the Chief Executive listened to the concerns service users had.  He said that there was a staffing problem in Thurrock and that a review was going to be set up but, months later, has anything changed?  Of course not.

I attended a SEPT Public Members meeting last month and I again raised this concern.  I was dumbfounded when the Trust’s Public Governor for Thurrock did not seem to know that there is a staff turnover in her area that would be comparable to the patient turnover in a hospital dealing with an outbreak of Ebola.  I have to wonder if she really is as worried about the quality of provision as she says she is.

At that same meeting, a service user, who always seems to be pulled out to support SEPT, said that she always saw the same doctor and that she got that through complaining to the Complaints Department.  She seemed to think that addressing the concerns of service users to the Chief Executive was a waste of time so why is SEPT so intent on running their “Take It To The Top” meetings?  The answer is clear – because they are nothing but another PR stunt.  I tried to put the point across that the concerns I was raising on behalf of service users had been put through the complaints procedure with no results but, as deaf to the sound of my voice as the people at SEPT I have talked to, my concerns were ignored and, most patronisingly, made out to be the ravings of a disgruntled individual.

The service that SEPT provide in other areas is not all that bad and I can say that from experience as I have to get most of my services (group therapy and access to the Employment Specialist) from the new Community Resource Centre, located in the Mental Health Unit at Basildon Hospital, due to the fact that, having worked with service users in this area, it would be almost impossible to be in a group that did not contain at least one person who already knew me.  In fact, I have to say that the service I get there is fantastic; however, for my outpatient appointments, I get my service through Grays Hall where, and I am not alone in this, I very rarely seem the same doctor twice before they are replaced with someone else.

It is this discontinuity of service that affects the chances of service users to recover or, at least, to live with their condition if recovery is not an option.  Going over the same story over and over again because the doctor seems to have neglected to read the notes or because they are a new doctor, just makes the problem worse rather than better.  A service user needs to be able to build up a relationship with a doctor so that they know each other and the doctor becomes someone the service user can trust, a tall order when the staff turnover is so high.  And when a good doctor comes along, they either leave due to burnout or because they are only assigned to this area for a short time.

Another problem is that of appointments.  When follow up appointment dates are agreed in a session between the service user and the doctor of the week, they are very rarely actually made by the Appointments Department.  I know from personal experience that agreed upon dates can be booked as it happened to me – once.  Most of the time, the service user has to chase appointment times, which is not always good for their mental health.  Why is this a problem?  Well, to put it in terms that a tabloid journalist would love, it means that there are some people who might not be taking their medication because they are not being monitored as often as they should be and, if even one of them is a possible danger to themselves or others, you are looking at a nasty headline.

SEPT has not dealt with the problems the problems in its provision in South Essex and, already, they have taken over Bedfordshire and Luton and are looking into providing Community Health services.  Is this a case of SEPT trying to control an ever-increasing slice of the power and funding in the NHS?  The answer has to be – yes.  Will they sort out the problems, the cancer growing in the heart of its empire?  Possibly, but how many service users will they be failing in the meantime?  That question has yet to be answered and it is one on which so much hangs, so many lives, so many broken psyches.  I await the answer with much anticipation.