Back to Beijing

Of course when we said goodbye to Beijing at the closing of the Olympic Games, last week, it wasn’t really goodbye. Next week, the Paralympics start.

I expect there to be a fair amount of coverage and will follow with interest – just as I discovered a previously dormant interest in Synchronised High Board Diving during the last few weeks, so I expect to uncover an unknown interest in Boccia during the next few weeks.

Olympic Biscuits - midiman at Flickr

Olympic Biscuits - midiman at Flickr

But there is the sad omission of learning disabled athletes from the Games. The Olympic spirit passes them by. There is an article from Community Care which highlights this point, confirming that

People with learning disabilities were first barred after the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney when it was discovered that members of the Spanish basketball team had falsely claimed to have a learning disability. Thousands of pounds of lottery funding for athletes in the UK has since been lost.

I worked for a few years, prior to qualifying as a social worker, with people with learning disabilities and we attended some of the sports events. Sport has the potential to bring an enormous amount of joy. We have seen that over the past few weeks.  The article goes on to add that

The International Sports Federation for Persons with an Intellectual Disability was responsible for monitoring eligibility of athletes for the Paralympics before being suspended in 2001. The IPC (International Paralympic Council) said that the verification process had been “grossly mismanaged” and that fair competition could not be ensured until the organisation got its act together.

Is there such a lack of public spirited and fair minded people in the world that these committees have to serve only themselves and not the people whom they are tasked to serve. I imagine the composition of the said committee has changed since it was accused of gross mismanagement in the process of establishing eligibility. I can only hope they are also in the process of ‘getting their act together’.

I know that cheating is an issue but to disallow all learning disabled athletes from the Paralympics seems a little more than heavy-handed. Eligibility can be a delicate matter but surely the purpose of competing is more important than actually winning. Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned gal who never made it out of the school second XI hockey team (actually no, I made it into the first team once, as a second reserve but I never actually got into the pitch!)  but enjoyed playing all the same!

Cheating has been associated with Olympic sport for many years – it is not a new thing – unfortunately – but because the publicity and sponsorship and pride are all involved, some people will do anything.

But disallowing all those who use the positive nature of sport.. it is taking a lot of potential joy away from an otherwise fine event.

A decision will be made following the Paralympic Games in Beijing as to whether the learning disabled athletes are re-admitted in time for London 2012. I personally feel it would be an injustice if they are not.

We’ve missed their presence and the Olympic movement is poorer as a result.

How to Complain About Me (or to the Local Authority generally)

A brief guide to how to complain from someone who has been on the other side of complaints. Not many times, I hasten to add, and none that have actually gone very far –  but I know what ticks the boxes as far as official complaints procedures are concerned.

Firstly, local authorities actually quite like official complaints. Of course, the people complained about don’t, in general. They and their immediate managers prefer to go down the unofficial dialogue route – try and iron things out before they need to go further – but the local authorities themselves like official complaints because they have targets based around them.

image Piez at Flickr

It’s always worth mentioning you want to raise an official complaint because then they’ll be someone from outside the department (there is a complaints department) overseeing it and keeping on the back of the person or service complained about to make sure they are doing what they say they are doing.

Official complaints make managers nervous but it also frees their time to actually deal with the issues at hand – rather than trying to deal with it among a heap of paperwork.

Things that scare people into action:

  • Threatening to go to the press. The local press works much better at this point. I was discussing with a friend of mine who wanted to make a complaint about her parking fine (when she had a disabled badge). She was writing a letter explaining how she had ‘contacts’ in the national press (her husband used to work for a national newspaper). I told her local works better. The Telegraph or Independent are far less likely to be interested in an unfair parking fine than the Sutton Telegraph or the Croydon Independent.
  • MPs/Councillors.  This gets management in local authorities moving like nothing else. When we get a complaint letter from an MP or Councillor it gets assigned immediately to top priority and to one of the more experienced workers. Sometimes they were over quite trivial matters in comparison to some of the work you were being taken away from and it really emphasised to me that the people who shout loudest get the best quality of service which isn’t how it should work. But it does – so if you need to, use it. I would do it myself and would advise anyone else to.

(Note: I have never seen a complaint coming from an MEP but somehow I feel they might not have the same effect!).

When an official complaint is raised (and you have to be careful and ensure that you mention those magic words – official complaint). A leaflet is sent out. This might look like prevaricating and postponing  but it is a part of procedure. DO NOT GIVE UP AT THIS POINT. Lots of people do. The leaflet gives timescales which become very important. It means you know -something- will happen.

If you feel ill-equipped to deal with confrontation, the complaints managers that I’ve worked with provide a barrier between the person and service being complained about and the person making the complaint. That is one of the reasons it is worth pursuing an official complaint.

Another thing to be aware of it that for the most part, I’m happy to accept complaints and I think most of my colleagues are too – usually they aren’t too personal and it is probably better to make a complaint about a service rather than an individual. If it is an individual at fault, better to express it as the service that was offered by that individual rather than anything based on personality. Even if they were really rude, it was because of that you received a poor service. It means your complaint will be less likely to be written off as an issue of personality conflict.

I don’t bear any ill-will to people who make complaints, often I am cheering from behind the scenes. One of the complaints I received about my own work resulted in me being able to point to a time when I was having an increasing number of the most complex cases landing on my desk and I was able to work on it as a means of demonstrating what happens when increasingly unrealistic expectations are made.

Of course, I don’t want to be complained about – I would rather deliver a faultless and seamless service that can be held without any mistakes but if I do make errors, not see things, not do what I say I am going to do, I’d rather it was picked up than not.

Delayed Discharges

Since moving from a generic Community Care team into a specialist Mental Health team a few years ago, I haven’t had as much contact with the vagaries of the delayed discharge system as I did back then.

Yesterday was a rude (in every sense of the word) awakening.

The Community Care (Delayed Discharge) Act 2003 introduced procedures to speed along the process of hospital discharge from acute wards when beds were needed. The financial stick approach was favoured and social services become chargeable for people who remain in hospital for ‘social’ reasons. This prompted  much fear within these self-same social services departments and moved possible and potential delayed discharges into the ‘highest priority’ category as the costs mount up exceptionally quickly  (I can’t remember the exact costs now but it’s floats about £120 a day – am happy to accept corrections on that though.. it’s off the top of my head!).

image tahitianlime @ flickr

There are also government targets relating to delayed discharge figures which tends to get people moving.

The process is now quite clear. We (social workers) receive a section 2 notification when or shortly after someone is admitted to hospital. This is a request for an assessment. Off we go and assess and put all the post-hospital plans into place – ready to go.

We then get sent a Section 5 notification. This is the one that kicks us into action. It usually means we have 24 hours to actually set up the systems we have put into place. It’s like a starting gun..

This system is not in place in psychiatric hospitals – yet – which is the reason I have less contact with it than before.

Sometimes things don’t work quite as smoothly as they should. It isn’t surprising. People are people after all and sometimes, to quote old Rabbie Burns (my (scottish) mother would be proud)

‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,’

This issue remains my highest point of contention with hospital staff. Sometimes Section 2s and Section 5s turn up on the same day for someone that needs a new care package (restarts are usually easy to set up, in contrast). Sometimes, you phone after receiving a Section 2 and ask about possible discharge plans to time things accordingly and get a ‘there are no plans to discharge X or Y’ and leaving a message, you go back to your work – only to have a Section 5 turn up on your desk a couple of hours later.

Sometimes when you move from a general adult service to a specialist mental health service and mutter about Mr I being issued with Section 2 notification, people gasp in horror about never thinking that he needed a compulsory admission.. oops, I should actually have made that clearer when I was discussing it with team members I think!

But yesterday, in responding to a Section 2 Community Care (Delayed Discharge) Act, I went to see Mr I in hospital. Not as local a hospital as it could be either. We were discussing care plans and discharges when one of the nursing staff spotted me (I’d told them I was coming so it would have probably been obvious who I was!).

‘Mr I is going to be discharged this afternoon’

I gulped.

‘Hold on, what about the Section 5 notification’

‘The ward manager is writing that now’

I look at Mr I. I have, fortunately (well, you learn a trick or two in time) spoken to the care agency that provides a ‘rapid response’ cover a couple of hours before I’d even left for the hospital to find out how quickly they could provide a service if needed.

‘I need 24 hours notice of a discharge to arrange a care package’.

Nurse furrows his brow. I lead a lecture about procedures and then realise that some fights aren’t worth pursuing.

I could probably have pushed it if I really wanted to but in this situation it really didn’t seem worth it. Sometimes though, righteous indignation feels quite self-satisfying.

A couple of phone calls and I have a care package ready to go for the evening and I got my little ‘procedures’ lecture in. I know I shouldn’t do it  but sometimes (fortunately not in this case) that 24 hours really is crucial.

The leaving (and rejoining) of Unison

Unison is one of the largest trade unions in the UK. I generally feel that being a member of a trade union is important and seeing as most of the social workers in my local authority are in Unison, it seemed like an obvious choice. I’m a bit of an on-off Unison member (currently on) and have a bit of a history with them – having left in a fit of pique sometime last year after becoming overly annoyed by the deputy secretary of the branch that I am in.

I got my apology (he was in the wrong – seriously!) and returned because ultimately there isn’t much in the way of alternatives (I am also a member of BASW but I see that has having a different role).

Leaving in a huff wasn’t quite as easy as I wanted it to be and I didn’t make much of a dramatic effect because the dues kept being taken out of my salary for a good few months afterwards! And when I did return, or when I said I did at least, it took a few more months for the dues to be re-added back to my salary – so I’m sure it balanced out in the end and in any case, I’ve never really needed to access Unison support services on a personal level but I have always been sympathetic to the idea of unionisation.

image indigo goat @ flickr

I’ve since changed my subscription method to direct debit – much better and easier to cancel if I ever do feel like stomping off into the sunset again.

I had a little more interaction with my favourite deputy secretary last week though and found it quite comical.

I have two work email addresses. One with the local authority and one with the NHS. I don’t use the local authority one very much and have one of those ‘out of office’ messages attached to it as I might check it as little as once a week or at the most every couple of days.

The NHS one is what I’d call my usual work email address.

All my Unison correspondence was going to my local authority email so I sent a functional email asking for any information to be forwarded to my NHS email.

I got a reply to my Local authority email thanking me and asking me if I’d been to some event a week earlier.

I replied that I might have been able to go (ok, that was probably a white lie.. ) if the information had been sent to the email address I actually use on a regular basis.

I got a reply, again to the local authority email, saying they had added my other email to their mailing list and would in the future contact me on that email (!).

I replied that I would actually find correspondence easier if it was done through my NHS email.

I received a lovely email (again to the local authority email) thanking me and emphasising the importance of keeping in touch.

It did make me chuckle more than anything else. I sent a terse email, again from the NHS address saying something like ‘Please contact me here in future’.

To be honest, I’d be more bothered if I thought Unison would send me anything useful..

Changes and Adjustments

Feeling particularly industrious this Bank Holiday Monday (yes, I am ‘officially’ still on holiday!), I’ve been playing with my theme and banners to make some adjustments to the look of the blog. It is still a work in progress so don’t be alarmed if things suddenly look different over the course of the next few days – that’s just me learning how to use Photoshop!

Back home tomorrow where normal service should be resumed at least to a point..