Sunday 29 June 2014


Defying the European court's rules on privacy

I hope I am not alone in finding the behaviour of Andy Coulson in listening in to some people's phone messages a lot less disturbing than the shabby conspiracy of vested interests - politicians of all parties, seedy celebrities and self-regarding millionaires, many of them embittered by the press exposing their bad behaviour - who are attempting to restrict the freedom of the press.

Phone hacking is wrong but apparently Coulson might get two years. Surely a heavy fine on the newspaper would be more like it and quite sufficient to deter them by hitting their pockets?

No good will come of all this and powerful people will thrive in their oppression of vulnerable people, hiding their misdeeds behind privacy and libel laws - and press restrictions which the "great and good" create behind closed doors in the middle of the night over a slice of pizza (story here).

The most recent evidence of creeping acceptance of press restriction was the appointment of Steve Coogan to Index on Censorship (story here) - an eye-popping absurdity and an astonishing decision of an organisation many of us used to respect.

All this in the same week in which we heard more about the crimes of seedy celebrity and self-regarding millionaire Jimmy Savile, including details of how he abused people with a serious mental illness in Broadmoor Hospital.

It is a matter of record that Savile understood well how he could use the law to protect himself, safe in the knowledge that he could break and bankrupt any newspaper which attempted to expose him.

A pity nobody hacked his phone.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Tour Finds Torfaen Fine

Hafal's Lowri and Jo with info on what Hafal has to offer carers in Pontypool

In the seventh week of its tour around all 22 counties of Wales the campaign caravanserai rolled into Pontypool in fine weather yesterday where one of Hafal Torfaen's Let's Get Physical! goals for this summer is to work with carers on maintaining and improving their physical health - because a caring role can take its toll.

Mrs Fisher, a carer at the project, said: "Some recent research by Carers UK showed that over 8 in 10 carers have seen a negative effect on their physical health because of their caring role. I'm not surprised! It's hard to find time to look after yourself when you're looking after someone else.

"As part of the campaign we are going to work together to identify ways for us to make time to become healthier. We'll also be looking at diet and exercise and making sure we get our health checked regularly."

At yesterday's Let's Get Physical! event both carers and service users had the opportunity to have health checks in the mobile surgery, take part in some exercise and enjoy a healthy lunch.

Our National Carers Lead Junaid Iqbal tells us: "It's great to see a focus on carers as well as service users in Torfaen. My advice to fellow carers is that sacrificing your own wellbeing won’t do you or the person you care for any favours. You have to try and find time to maintain your own health - although as carers we know that this can be hard to achieve.

"You can talk to health and social care agencies and see how they can support you. You can also ask the Community Mental Health Team, the GP and other health and social care agencies for their cooperation in supporting you to take breaks."

Mal with Mary and Lisa of Torfaen's National Exercise Referral Scheme

Monday 23 June 2014

Exercise Can Be Fun

I'm a bit of a sceptic about mind and body martial arts and there is doubtless quite a lot of hocus spoken about many of them.

But I was long since convinced that Tai Chi had something going for it, having first seen it work ten years ago for hundreds of lithe and relaxed Chinese pensioners early morning in the parks of Paris and latterly among our own clients and staff.

It is also rather good for dealing with shyness and inhibition, I suggest.

"My advice to anyone who is fairly physically mobile, whatever your age, is to get into Tai Chi," says Paula-Louise Webb, a service user at Hafal Blaenau Gwent. "It's easy to get into and once you start you'll really get into it."

Hafal Mental Health Practitioner Malcolm O'Callaghan, who was certified by Grand Master Eddie Wu Kwong Yu in 2013, delivered a Tai Chi class at last Friday's Let's Get Physical! event in Llanhilleth, Blaenau Gwent. Visitors also took part in an exercise class, had the opportunity to have health checks in the mobile health centre and enjoyed a healthy lunch.

Malcolm said: "Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art and is based on smooth, coordinated circular movements. Known as 'meditation in motion' the practice of the Tai Chi form will help with the development of a relaxed body and mind. Research has shown that regular practice can improve balance, breathing, digestion and circulation and reduce stress."

Service user Sarah Jones added: "We're already into physical exercise at the project and we've done some Nordic Walking, Smovey Exercise and gardening as well as the Tai Chi. They actually make exercise fun and I never thought I'd say that.

"I think it's easier to exercise with other people because you're taking part in something and you motivate each other. Tai Chi is really good because it's not too taxing and you can also practice on your own. I hope the campaign gets lots more people involved in exercise and joining classes."

Are you enjoying this weather? You aren't the only one...

Rhys demonstrates the "supine cat" position under the supervision of Grand Master Huw

Thursday 19 June 2014

Ulster Fry

A thoughtful and unqualified endorsement from the First Minister of the Let's Get Physical! campaign.

It is good to get Wales' premier politician backing our grass-roots activists in their unprecedented effort to overwhelm the problem of physical ill-health among people with a mental illness and their carers.

Especially when he clearly has other things on his mind...

He is exercised that if Scotland leaves the United Kingdom then England might too - see the story here.

As he explains, this would leave just Wales and Northern Ireland as the, erm, UK?

If that happens I suppose we will keep the pound and stop England using it - and it might be fun to keep the veto on the UN Security Council too.

Above all, though, it would present the opportunity to create the greatest breakfast ever imagined - a combination of the "Full Welsh" with fried laver bread and the cholesterol-rich "Ulster Fry" with white and black pudding.

But we would have to pass a law (parliament could sit alternately in Cardiff and Belfast) which says you can only have the new breakfast if you first run 10 miles at the crack of dawn - and on that basis it will conform to the best Let's Get Physical! principles.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Audis In The Car-Park

A report out today says the NHS is the best healthcare system in the world - see the story here.

Which NHS? But perhaps in this context that is a detail. The same study suggests the US's system is the worst: a ridiculous contention - there is plenty to criticise in the American system but on a large number of measures (especially in the development of modern treatments) it is clearly out in front.

Before the NHS Confederation (the "trade union" of senior execs and non-execs whose leather-upholstered saloons crowd the car-parks of NHS HQs up and down the land) gets too complacently self-satisfied they should note the small print in the report which says that "the only serious black mark against the NHS was its poor record on keeping people alive".

"A small matter! Where did I park my Audi?"

Hello Again, Cinderella

So, overall spending on the Welsh NHS has gone up but the amount spent specifically on mental health has gone down.

The genuine concern of the Welsh Government (yes, I believe they are genuine, though they are also of course fully responsible for this spending pattern) is betrayed by the inexorable prejudice which drives planners and commissioners to see mental health services as a lesser priority in comparison with physical health.

"Together for mental health"? Words, even some progress, but, as I have said repeatedly, not as important as protecting the resources - and they haven't been protected.

English Go Home!

A Tudor foundation in international Cambridge

Interesting news item today about how few Welsh students go to Oxford or Cambridge Universities - follow this link.

The Welsh Government is right to look at this and not to be afraid of any accusation about worrying about elitism. Paul Murphy's report makes some sense although surely he prescribes too many "hubs" - there would be tiny numbers of pupils involved in each of them?

Some years back I came across an interesting example of a very able youngster who I thought could get into Oxford or Cambridge but who believed, along with her parents, that it was a bit of a betrayal to go to an English university. I won the argument (and she went to Cambridge and has since been a glittering success) on the basis that Oxford and Cambridge are not English universities at all but international ones.

Trust me, that is not just talk: they scarcely respect English law let alone English culture.

Famously there was a graffito on the wall of the toilets in Jesus College, Oxford (the historic "Welsh" college - although only 15% of their students today are from Wales which rather illustrates the problem), which read "English go home!". Sounds absurd written in the very heart of England but in that stateless enclave it made a kind of sense.

Friday 13 June 2014

T’ai Chi And High Tea

John Griffiths AM and Jessica Morden MP in the mobile clinic with LGP nurse Lynne

Yet more inspirational and practical ideas are emerging from this year's campaign...

"Food co-ops are the way forward!" says Ellie McGuire, a service user from Newport."Our food co-op is going from strength to strength. It encourages people to buy fruit and vegetables on a weekly basis and because we buy in bulk it works out cheaper."

Hafal Newport's food co-op attracted much interest at today's Let's Get Physical! event at the Hafal/Mental Health Foundation base in Newport. Visitors had the opportunity to see how the project's food co-op runs and to eat a healthy lunch prepared with co-op goods, as well as have health checks in the mobile surgery, take part in T’ai Chi and Community Connection exercise classes, and hear an Inside Out poetry recital.

The event was attended by Jessica Morden MP, Mohammad Asghar AM, John Griffiths AM and Newport Mayor Councillor Matthew Evans.

Speaking about the food co-op Ellie said: "The idea behind food co-ops is that by pooling our buying power and ordering food in bulk direct from local suppliers we can buy at a more affordable price. We focus on healthy, good-quality produce. There's less waste and fewer food miles.

"Our advice to anyone interested in setting up a food co-op is to get together with some friends or neighbours - or anyone else in the community - and go for it! You can source great produce direct from local farmers or wholesalers. All it takes is a bit of coordination."

And our local Practice Leader Michelle said: "Today's event has really brought into focus what we're doing to improve our physical health. We run a healthy lunch club in Newport which we hope to develop throughout the campaign and beyond. We've also linked up with the exercise coordinators throughout the area for the event and we hope to continue working with them in the future."

It is really gratifying to see how getting healthy and staying healthy can be fun and sociable - but only if the initiative comes from the people concerned. A lesson there for those humourless public health wonks who don't seem to be able to avoid equating healthy living with a boring and restricted mung-bean lifestyle.

Bill's Banana Goal

How much fun can you have for £1?

You could have a lot of fun (and get lots of serious information and support) by joining Hafal. Membership is from £1 (free for in-patients and prisoners) - details here.

There is really no competition with that bargain but another way to obtain thrills for just £1 is to join the Hafal Head Office World Cup Sweep-Stake. Actually it is restricted to staff here so bad luck.

For some reason I was made to buy two tickets and so get twice the nail-biting, unbearable tension of seeing my team go down in the first round - or else the massive surge of adrenalin as they head for the finals.

My two teams are Croatia and (wait for it) England. I learnt this morning that Croatia were robbed by Brazil last night: a player improbably named Fred took a dive (FIFA call it a "simulation") to obtain a penalty at the expense of my plucky Balkan friends.

Actually I couldn't name a single member of the Croatian team and the same is true of England. I remember Gazza but he must have moved on by now?

Like my rugby career my soccer experience started well. I was a demon outside left and once scored direct from a corner kick in my under 8 team against another school - "Bill's banana goal" as it was known to legend.

After that it was all downhill. My memories are of idling mid-field in pouring rain as part of a reluctant house third eleven, seven nil to them if anybody was counting.

If Croatia aren't in it then nor are England apparently. Professor Stephen Hawking has used his weird brain and a lot of boring statistics to calculate that they have a 5% chance of winning so I'm not staying up or staying in to follow that.

Fishing is the sport for me. If England win I will only know when I get the money which I will spend on mackerel feathers. In fact in murky West Wales water the best ones are made with silver foil not feathers - mackerel are so greedy and stupid you just want whatever is most visible. And they cost about £1 if you buy carefully on-line.

Carers' Week

It's carers' week - see a great set of links on our new carers' page on the web-site here and a reminder of the services we provide for carers...

Family support: working closely with carers and family members to provide the best support for clients

Advocacy: supporting carers by representing their interests

Breaks for carers: engaging a person being cared for in an activity so that carers can take a break

Accessible information and advice: providing carers with the latest news and information relevant to them

Mutual support: enabling carers to support each other through carers’ groups

Giving carers a voice: especially in the planning of local services

Awareness raising: highlighting carers’ rights, such as the right to have a needs assessment

Saturday 7 June 2014

Rose Prince vs Mary Berry

As a reward for doing some gardening - and I don't mean pricking out lettuce plants or similar light duties but sawing branches and clearing brambles - I get home-made hazelnut cake and strawberry jam (also home-made) for tea.

You can do it yourself by following Rose Prince's two recipes here. Actually Mrs Blog used Mary Berry's recipe for the jam instead - you can see her do it on film here - handy for seeing how to check when the jam is ready.

Looking over my shoulder as I type this Mrs B insists I admit on her behalf that she didn't wait quite long enough for the jam to cool before she put it in the jars - so the strawberry bits did rather float to the top. Ho hum - at any rate nobody will think we substituted a commercial brand (and it tastes fine).

If you haven't got a ring tin (we got ours from the Sally Army charity shop for 50p) Mrs B says any shape cake tin which gives you plenty of crust will do including just a standard round one but only fill it about two inches.

Such food of course is completely healthy in moderation - especially if you do some compensatory manual labour - so I assert confidently that this counts as a Let's Get Physical! contribution...

Friday 6 June 2014

Fighting Talk

More inspiration - it's been an inspiring week - as service-users take control of their physical health and face down those gloomy statistics about the poor health of people with a mental illness.

They are proving that you don't need to be fatalistic and trends can be bucked if you take on the challenge of taking care of yourself...

Today the Let’s Fizz! campaign reached Caerphilly at an event which included a 'smoothie bike', exercise and dance taster sessions, and tunes from the Hyderus music group.

But every Friday is active at Hafal Caerphilly thanks to the Fighting Fit group.

Service user Ian Parr explains: "Due to a change in my medication I had gained weight, and this left me feeling very low with no confidence and self-esteem. So I joined the Fighting Fit group at the Hafal Hyderus project. We all work well as a part of a group as we are able to support each other. I felt motivated to repair the puncture in my bike and started to cycle to the project, and now I walk as I can burn more calories! I feel a lot more confident and motivated and my self-esteem has improved.

"The Fighting Fit group is all about taking practical steps towards good health. During the group we all weigh and record our weight so that we can monitor it weekly to see the progress. We then have a group discussion about what we have eaten during the week and the exercise we have done. We eat a healthy lunch that we make ourselves and then we walk for two hours on a route near to the project.

"The Let’s Get Physical! campaign has given us new ideas about how to develop the group. It’s going from strength to strength."

As part of their campaign activity the Fighting Fit group will be producing a short video blog about their achievements in getting more active, eating well and losing weight. Hafal Blackwood service users will also be producing case studies about what they have done to become more healthy. Watch out for these on Hafal’s Facebook platform!

Thanks are also due to all the organisations who had a stand at today’s event including the GP Exercise Referral Scheme, local Food Co-op, Citizens Advice Bureau, Gofal, Pathways to Employment, Smoking Cessation and Drug Aid: it's fantastic that we can work together on the vital mission of improving the physical health of people with a mental illness and their families.

Extraordinary Challenges

Yesterday I reported on the intrepid Hafal activists who braved that treacherous water between the Welsh mainland and Ynys Môn.

Today I observe the meticulous preparations of another Hafal supporter who is setting off on another stretch of water - the Indian Ocean.

Heather Rees-Guant from West Wales is about to embark on her epic row for Hafal which will involve a journey across 5,000 miles of open sea from Australia to South Africa. Heather tells us...

"Ocean rowing is all about mental and physical endurance. That’s why I chose Hafal as the charity I wanted to support because, like me, Hafal’s clients are ordinary people taking on extraordinary challenges"

Thanks, Heather, you put that so well. It will inspire Hafal Members and indeed everbody with a mental illness to think of your amazing ambition alongside their own courageous efforts to recover and thrive.

The expedition will start within a few days and we will keep in touch with Heather's progress using a battery of sophisticated tracking equipment.

Thursday 5 June 2014


Splendid pictures from the raft race in the Menai Strait where intrepid service-users and staff (and including one Hafal Trustee) braved the troublesome currents of this notorious stretch of water - and came a very creditable 8th out of 45!

It may be June but that water looks cold...

What a plucky adventure, taking Let's Fizz! to the max and showing conclusively that there are no barriers for our clients (nor indeed staff) in physical endeavour.


Monday 2 June 2014

Scrutiny, Honesty, Probity

The RCP's posh new HQ in E1 - not as posh as the old address in Belgrave Square SW1 but no doubt more comfortable

This morning I was supposed to appear on Radio Wales to discuss the Royal College of Psychiatrists' survey announced in the news today - but at the last minute I was bounced by breaking news on Madeleine McCann and Qatar (I thought I had worked out that Qatar business years ago - see this post).

The survey found that cuts to mental health services in the UK are "approaching a tipping point". The survey, by RCP’s Psychiatric Trainees' Committee, asked junior doctors working in psychiatry across the UK to talk about their experiences of working in mental health over the last six months. A total of 3,504 trainees were contacted. Of the 576 trainees that responded: 70% said they had experienced difficulty finding an appropriate bed for a patient at least once. In child and adolescent services (CAMHS) that figure was 83%.

The survey includes Wales although the sample from Wales was quite small. Nevertheless, there are very similar problems in Wales to those in England.

There has been a longstanding suspicion that the Mental Health Act has been used inappropriately as a way of gaining access for patients to hospital and of course this becomes a more serious problem when there is poor availability of beds.

This is not just an unacceptable invasion of patients’ rights in a wider legal and ethical sense; it is also deeply anti-therapeutic, conveying the worst possible message to patients because it wrongly suggests that compulsion was necessary when in fact it was a fault in services.

The solution is also clear. We need sufficient beds – and that means having spare bed spaces to meet unpredictable demand; and we need scrutiny, honesty and probity in administering the Mental Health Act.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Chocolate Box

Seeking inspiration in Dylan Thomas' writing shed. The real thing is at Laugharne but you can't go in (and actually - don't tell anybody - but even that's actually a replacement: the original rotted away)

For somebody who is irritated by literary festivals I must be a glutton for punishment for attending the Hay-on-Wye event this Saturday.

I was keen to see Lucy Hughes-Hallett speak about The Pike - Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War, her remarkable biography of the proto-fascist Italian nationalist Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938).

D'Annunzio is a fascinating subject being quite as pompous and opinionated as others of fascist tendencies but actually quite a good writer nevertheless. I have a theory that people with middle-of-the-road politics are generally much better writers and artists than both the communists and the fascists, possibly because they are more interested in humanity than daft causes and humble enough to be unsure about politics anyway. D'Annunzio seemed sure about everything - or was he? Just possibly he didn't take himself that seriously.

I wanted to ask a question on behalf of my Blog readers about whether Ms Hughes-Hallett thought her subject had a diagnosable illness which caused his strange and repellent attraction to ill and dying women and in bloodshed generally. Sadly I didn't get my chance as I was beaten to the opportunity by some of those usual arch-bores at such events who don't really have a question but want to show off that they have read the book.

Meanwhile Mrs Blog and a friend went to see Telegraph journalist Bryony Gordon puff her disgraceful new book The Wrong Knickers. They even got a picture with her, having bought the offending volume.

I don't know if it's in the book (and if not then this Blog has the dubious honour of revealing the shocking truth) but at the event Ms G apparently described an episode where her boyfriend snorted Class A drugs which had been sprinkled all over her embonpoint. To judge from Mrs B's picture he must have had quite a habit. I suppose even this behaviour pales beside that of the flamboyant Italian about whom I had been hearing - but then I didn't get my picture taken with him!

Finding inspiration in the Spanish Government's tent - they do have style, don't they, unlike the chocolate box approach of the Wales Tourist Board?