Welcome back to a quick update from another Mental Health Carer forum. This one was a joint forum since due to the election candidates had to cover many areas to campaign and it was harder for them to visit each forum.
On Thursday the 28th of November, we had our Joint Southwark and Lambeth MH carer forum, which was held over at Moasic Clubhouse during the morning. The host for the joint forum was Carers Hub Lambeth who do an amazing amount of work for unpaid carers in the borough of Lambeth.
A bit more about Carers Hub Lambeth. Carers’ Hub Lambeth is an independent local charity based in Brixton, They seek to limit the dilemma’s placed on carers by two key ways. One way is by working with carers directly, and the other by influencing the local services and policies that affect them. Hence this is why we built up the Lambeth MH carers forum, which has been running quite a few years now.
We were also jointed by unpaid carers from Southwark Carers and a bit about them.
Southwark Carers try to make it easier for Carers to have a life outside of caring by 3 key areas, this is by Enabling, empowering and enriching the lives of carers in the London Borough of Southwark. Southwark Carers enabling service is a flexible, individual, personalised service offering support on a one-to-one, plus their empowering service provides carers with information and knowledge of their rights and lastly they help in enriching unpaid carers lives by offering leisure activities or by helping them return to training, education or work.
I was very proud that both groups of unpaid carers came together from both boroughs to be heard on issues affecting carers from the two boroughs.
About the forums
Both Southwark and the Lambeth MH carer forums work the same way as the Lewisham and the Lewisham BAME MH carer forums. The forum is not much of a support group (those are a different and complex animal), they are mean’t to empower unpaid carers who are active in connecting with other carers and the community. The way mental health services are run are complex and also a mystery. These services affect unpaid carers regardless of what anyone thinks. Unpaid carers should be empowered to know what is going on and why. Even then, that is not enough. Unpaid carers should be involved and not be a tickbox or an afterthought.
Where it took place
As mentioned, the joint forum took place at Moasic Clubhouse, which supports people who are living with a mental health condition in the London Borough of Lambeth. Mosaic’s approach is built on the internationally-recognised Clubhouse model , which embeds coproduction between staff and members throughout all activities.
On the day Helen Hayes (candidates for Dulwich & West Norwood in the 2019 general election) visited and engaged with both patients, staff and carer groups to here about the good work they do and listen to burning issues or questions. Helen has been a long promoter of both carer forums and she has visited and engaged with both the Southwark and Lambeth MH carer forums several times already. She works tirelessly to represent the community and often checks up on how things are getting along.
Why it is important to have relations to MPs and candidates
I often felt that carers have a really tough time getting mental health services or the local authority to listen to their issue, which is why when unpaid carers get together, they should have a link to government representatives and a lot more. If there are forces that wish to drown out an unpaid carer concerns, then there is always a risk many would seek to avoid or limit the groups activities. Its not that unpaid carers want to moan or complain, its just they wish to be heard and be counted.
As a bonus on why it is important for unpaid carers to get a voice in government circles. I have included Carers UK Manifesto on the General Election in the Link below and also Carers Trust’s Think Carer 2019 pledge.
Discussions and agenda at the joint carer forum
You will have to forgive me as I completely forgot my notebook, so I did not note anything down.
I had built up the forums to help empower unpaid carers, so I was really happy to see another carer chair such an important meeting and I really hope many will talk about how impressed they were with her.
Helen briefed us on how Labour will strive hard to get the unpaid carer’s voice heard. Labour will strive to work on the Mental Health Act 1983 amendments, but she also mentioned that through years of austerity services had struggled, which in turn lead to difficulty in unpaid carers lives.
I mentioned to Helen my role at the Royal College of Nursing due to the amount of pressures placed on student nurses and nursing in general, we really hope the government will seek to support not just patients, but nurses and unpaid carers. The NHS has taken blow after blow due to lack of foresight and lack of investment, although the intention has been good, intention alone is not enough and too often the social care angle has been kicked down the road.
I have also added RCN’s Safe Staffing Saves Lives link below.
Up for discussion was also the impact of the Care Act 2014 as many unpaid carer was left wondering, what difference has it made since more services were drawn into the local authority and grassroots carer charities have been striped of their power, were funding has been cut and staff at carer centers told to do more. From what I have noticed, it has been a complex web of bureaucracy and deceit where heads and directors of social care are not engaging with groups and make decisions without hearing the stories of those affected by those decisions.
Many unpaid Mental Health carers are wondering what bite does the Care Act 2014 have, when very few are aware what it is meant to do, which probably it is aimed to highlight and protect carers rights.Embed from Getty Images
There have been situations and stories where the Local Authority gang up with mental health services and push the family or carer out of involvement for the cared for. It is like the carer is not a professional in their own right and the law see’s it that way. Nevermind the peer support, services can and often collude with each other to drown out the struggles the carer or ‘cared for’ may have, which is why we as a group look to the politicians to not only represent us at government, but bring us along in the journey.
If things go wrong or nothing gets settled, then we carers are a patient lot, but we must try and try and try again using different methods.
Lambeth Carers Strategy
Up also for debate was the Lambeth Council’s Carer’s Strategy and how things were forming on the councils responsibility to its unpaid carers. I have always been a firm promoter that local authorities engage with carers on what they are doing for carers. It is not enough to assume strategies are too hard or complex for unpaid carers to get involved in. Even if the carers strategy does not amount to much, at least it raises awareness of unpaid carers and is a way to hold the council to account. There will be an update on Lambeth’s Carer strategy next year, but I am interested on how other council’s strategies are developing or if they are non-existent.
One method was through Healthwatch, which works to ensure local people’s voices count when it comes to shaping and improving local health and social care services. As with Lewisham Healthwatch, the joint forum was joined by Lambeth Healthwatch due to the proposal of the closure of Lambeth hospital.
The discussions were well thought out and there was alarm among unpaid carers about the distance and proximity of services moving to Southwark. Even when Lambeth has very high rates of mental illness in the borough we feel there has not been the paper trail of consultations and get the feeling that the Lambeth hospital closure is a done deal. Many still understand that the hospital is not fit for purpose, but cannot understand why Southwark is slowly draining access to services away from Lambeth.
There was a lot more in the discussion, which unfortunately I cannot remember now, but Lambeth Healthwatch will certainly take this back to the council and CCG. We await updates in the new year. We as a forum continue to seek a relationship with the Healthwatches and other parties including the CCGs, we do not want to make life hard for the decision makers, but we do need to be involved, empowered and heard on specific issues and queries.
No matter what government gets in power, we as unpaid carers will strive to get our voices heard due to the nature of our cause and struggles. It is only fair that what we do for the love of our ‘cared for’ and the ‘community’ that we should not be ignored.