Friday 1 April 2011

Press Button B

Our election campaign (link here as promised) has got off to a great start with one of Hafal's growing number of Expert Patient Trainers Sharon Harris from Merthyr setting out the consumer perspective for ITV's election special on health (Wales Decides, ITV, Tuesday 10.30 pm).

Their health correspondent Mariclare Carey-Jones also interviews me leaning nonchalantly against the campaign microbus, giving the impression that I'm on my way to harangue the public through a tannoy to "Vote for Mental Health!".

All credit to ITV for making some serious programmes about the election and let's hope we get a better turn-out than the recent referendum on Assembly powers (though that was better than many feared).

A reminder of what patients are seeking from candidates...

1. Protect funding for mental health

We need candidates’ assurance that they will fully protect resources for mental health, both NHS funding and funding provided to local authorities for mental health social care. We are calling on all candidates and all political parties to ensure that Health Boards and Local Authorities are held to account for their spending on mental health services, that any efficiency savings are re-invested back into mental health and that there is clear and transparent financial reporting of this.

2. Deliver on new mental health law and regulations

The Mental Health (Wales) Measure (the new mental health law) was passed last year with cross-party support. We need candidates’ assurance that the Measure will be delivered in full and that the Regulations and Code of Practice are developed with our rights in mind, ensuring that every person with a serious mental illness has an holistic care plan covering all areas of life.

3. Put patients in the driving seat

Service users and carers know that positive change is only possible if we roll up our sleeves and take charge both of our own circumstances and of wider services. We need candidates’ assurance that they will empower us to choose the services we personally receive and also to have a full say in developing policy and commissioning mental health services.

Meanwhile it remains to be seen whether the simultaneous AV referendum on 5 May upsets the electorate in any way. I suppose the fact that people are voting for AMs in Wales using the "additional member" system at the same moment as deciding whether to adopt the very different "alternative vote" system for Westminster could either confuse or possibly irritate people.


My personal confusion is with the postal voting package which falls on my door-mat. You'd expect to get just a ballot form and an envelope to send it back in but, no such luck, there's a flurry of different bits of paper marked A and B plus impenetrable instructions about folding it in unfamiliar and counter-intuitive ways. You may scoff at my problem but this is surely discrimination against those short on spatial aptitude and origami skills.

My theory is that the ballot papers were designed by the same person who invented those phones with buttons A and B which nobody could make work even with the operator supervising your call. The operator checked if you had put the money in by listening out for a little bell which the coins struck as you put them in. In about 1976 I had an argument with an operator in Cork (the Irish Republic had these phones until much later) who I'm sure miscounted the tiny chimes as my florins were fed in so I didn't have enough. I then lost the precious coins because she vengefully prevented me using Button B to retrieve them, I suspect owing to a long-lasting grievance about the Black and Tans or similar rather than our minor contretemps. After 35 years and in the spirit of reconciliation and the Irish Peace Process I hereby forgive her.