It is with regret that we have to report that the campaign’s relationship with the new CEO of NSFT looks like it’s breaking down. Before we have even met him. This is a first for us. All the previous CEOs at least managed some tokenistic meetings with our representatives .
We genuinely wanted to give Adam Morris a fair shot. He seemed interested in hearing from us. On 4th May he approached us to ask for a meeting.
We responded with a reasonable suggestion –
“We would like to meet you ASAP, firstly with a small group of Campaigners, to enable us to focus on our concerns. Later we would like a larger meeting that will give more SUs and Carers an opportunity to speak.”
Adam Morris asked to meet under ‘Chatham House Rules’ which means that information shared in meetings can be discussed outside of the meeting but the source cannot be identified. This did not sit comfortably with us but we agreed. We were asked not to share what was discussed in a meeting on social media. In return we asked that whatever we discussed would not be shared internally or externally by Adam Morris. We are not breaking this agreement because we have not actually had any meetings.
Then, the goalposts moved. We were given directions on how we should behave at any meeting –
“I would also ask politely that we all act with decorum and respect.”
Additionally, we were asked to include Stuart Richardson (Deputy CEO and someone who campaigners do not trust) and the Communications Director.
We took a deep breath and asked for meeting with just Adam Morris. He agreed but restricted us to three representatives.
Then the day before the planned meeting we were asked to allow an NSFT ‘observer’ into the meeting.
There was much dismay amongst our members and with heavy ‘here we go again’ hearts we decided to withdraw until we have the opportunity to meet and discuss.
Below is our open letter to Adam Morris explaining our position:
We are disappointed that our hoped-for opportunity for representatives of our campaign group to meet with you and confidentially share our concerns has turned into a meeting that NSFT appears to want to control. This does not make our members feel safe.
We received your email attempting to change what had been agreed at very short notice. This in our view shows not only a disrespect for our members but also a lack of understanding of the level of support and planning that some members need to feel able to participate in such a meeting in the first place. We are all volunteers with responsibilities and demands on our time. For some of us just getting by day by day is a huge challenge.
Please bear in mind that our members include people who have been on the wrong end of the power imbalance. We are service users and carers who have not received the care that we need (who might have tried to use the complaints process without satisfactory resolution). We are bereaved relatives still waiting for answers about our loved ones’ death. We are staff who feel bullied out of our posts or unable to raise legitimate safety concerns internally without fear of persecution.
Although we are a large group, most members do not feel safe enough to reveal our involvement with the campaign for fear of repercussions. These feelings are compounded by Stuart Richardson’s letter to the late Terry O’Shea threatening legal action when he was terminally ill. We have it on good authority NSFT was fully aware of how sick Terry was when the letter was sent. Terry was our human shield. He was brave. He fully understood the many and varied reasons we could not speak out ourselves and repeatedly put his head above the parapet on our behalf.
So far in setting up this meeting you have asked for;
-Meetings to be held on your terms, (Chatham House rules).
-Stuart Richardson and others to attend with you.
-Restricting us to three representatives.
-At the 11th hour requesting that an NSFT observer sit in.
We experience the above as defensive and controlling behaviours more aligned to tokenism than genuine dialogue and listening. Listening is the key point here. As a first step to meaningful engagement all we were asking for was an hour of your time to listen to our experiences and our thoughts about where the critical problems persist. We offered our time in good faith. Our sole purpose is to ensure that services are safe and that people who need mental health care receive it.
Please be aware that in Norfolk and Suffolk all the relationships are enmeshed with the same few (sometimes related) people circulating between posts within NFST and partner organisations. Your actions mean that we do not have faith that our members’ representatives’ confidentiality will be respected. This is causing us disquiet.
We have consistently said we want to work collaboratively with NSFT. We have met with successive leadership teams in the hope of being listened to. Sadly, we get the impression that you have prioritised listening to the spin and window dressing from management teams rather than the lived experience of people shut out of services or your staff working themselves into the ground trying to bridge the many gaps in the system they are forced to work in.
Over the last seven years we have consistently raised legitimate concerns in good faith, based on evidence. We have been threatened, ridiculed or dismissed as ‘shroud wavers’ who are vexatious and negative. Our concerns have been proved right every time.
We were open to accept that you genuinely wanted to hear informed, grass-roots views from people connected with our communities about the situation at NSFT as experienced by the people you are meant to provide services for.
We will discuss as a group on Tuesday whether there is any point in meeting with you. In the meantime we will provide support over the weekend to the people who have been damaged by the persistent moving of goalposts in setting up this meeting.
We find it very paternalistic to suggest that we should be ‘protected’ from having to speak to an incoming CEO once his interim role has ended. We are perfectly able to decide for ourselves who we wish to engage with on our own terms.
Perhaps when you have made a decision under exactly which conditions you are prepared to meet you will let us know and we will decide a way forward.
Members of the Campaign to Save Mental Health in Norfolk and Suffolk