Directors Report Jan 2014

Internal governance

Since the last Central Council I have been involved in discussions with the other Socialist Societies in London and Manchester about how we might assist with the campaigns round the May elections to local councils and the European Parliament. Several societies are enthusiastic about the idea of organising joint public seminars or hustings. Equality North West are also interested. I’ve also had long discussions about possibilities with John Galloway who is co-ordinating the London Labour NHS campaign, and with Cllr Linda Thomas, Deputy Chair of the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. However I’m not getting very far with the LGA office.

The Health Policy Commission meeting on 26th November was turned into a teleconference at short notice. I attend as representative of the Socialist Societies. It emerged then that the Final Year document will be produced after the meeting of the Health Policy Commission on 15th January when Sir John Oldham produces his report. That will be followed by a teleconference about 2 weeks later to agree the document.

I attended the NHS Alliance Conference – a one day event, much reduced in scale, but a number of SHA members prominent – Brian Fisher, Prof Chris Drinkwater for 2. Very pleased to renew my acquaintance with Roy Lilley, and to see Liz Kendall give a good account of herself in debate with Steven Dorrell, though the two of them didn’t disagree about much. By twittering at the event I also discovered a number of useful contacts who I could meet face to face.

We organised a very useful first meeting of our Foundation Trust Chairs network. It’s a very informal network, so we’re not proposing to take minutes. But we agreed that we should widen the invitations to include Chairs of non Foundation Trusts, but confine them to Labour Party members.

We organised a joint event in Manchester with the Fabian Society where Paul Richards, who was Special Adviser to Hazel Blears discussed the role of Special Advisers.

I attended an excellent meeting of the West Midlands SHA discussing mental health services with Sue Davies, Chair of the Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. I also went to a discussion at Manchester University entitled “Market-driven change or constrained neoliberalism?” which centred on the history of Guy’s Hospital and St Thomas Hospital to the development of NHS Trusts in the 1990s. The speaker asked me if I could arrange for Julian Tudor Hart to come to Manchester to speak, and I think that will happen next year.

I’ve been asked to join the Urgent Care Board of Central Manchester CCG and attended my first meeting, which promises to be a very useful source of intelligence about current developments.

With the Chair I met with Jos Bell to talk generally about campaigning which is on the Central Council Agenda as requested.  Some valuable and interesting ideas need to be followed up and Jos has offered to assist with resources that can be used in campaigns.

Wikipedia is the sixth most popular website on the planet. It’s where most people look first for information. I discovered that its treatment of the NHS was very poor, so I have spent some time improving it and learning how to write decent articles. I think it is time well spent. Of course it is not the place for a campaigning stance. It is intended to be dispassionate and objective. But there are plenty of opportunities to present facts which should be better known, and to link to campaigns and to material on our site. I think we should encourage our members to contribute. We have plenty of knowledgeable people.

Communications Role and Editorial Board

The main thrust of my work over the past 13 years has been to raise the profile of the Association, and in particular to show that we are well informed on health issues. This has recently become difficult as I have been isolated from some developments and I was even asked to leave the last Central Council meeting.  I am sure I have made mistakes, and done things which some members of the Association do not agree with. However I cannot learn from my mistakes unless I am told what they are.  As an employee I am also entitled to the usual protection and any complaints should be directed through appropriate channels. I am afraid this atmosphere of suspicion and criticism has affected some aspects of my work for the SHA and I have discussed this with the Chair and previous Chair.

There have been some issues around the role and functions of the Editorial Board and  there was a discussion about the website at the Central Council meeting on 23rd November from which I was excluded. The administration of the web site is an important part of my job.  I understand that Central Council agreed that a meeting should take place between the Chair and the Editorial Board which took place on 5th December.  I understand from the Chair the meeting was positive and agreed the way forward but I have yet to be informed what was actually agreed and have yet to meet the Editorial Board to understand better the direction they wish to take. I have set out below my perspective on the issues around the Editorial Board and hope in the New Year we can make progress.

I have offered to provide a session on our web site to take place prior to the Central Council meeting on January 18th and hope members will attend.

Involvement with Editorial Board

At the meeting in June 2013 Central Council decided to establish an Editorial Board, as part of a consideration of our Communications Strategy. The Board was to:

  • arbitrate on any disagreement over what the communications policy requires
  • withdraw a member’s access to post on the web site in extreme cases and after due warning
  • provide advice to the Director about possible web site posts offered by non members
  • offer advice to contributors on more effective communication
  • consider any complaints about any SHA communications (and request action if necessary)
  • remove from our web site any material they consider inappropriate
  • request deletion of any SHA related tweet or Facebook entry (or similar) they consider inappropriate
  • request changes to any material that has been posted on the web site
  • offer the Officers and CC advice and suggestions about the effectiveness of communications and media.
  • work with the Director and Officers on the structure and design of the web site.

The Board quickly proceeded to draw up a design brief to remedy what they considered to be the weaknesses of the website. This was produced by correspondence and I had very little input into it. I have no quarrel with the aims of the brief, but I doubt whether some of them can be realised easily, or at all, with the resources we have available. The design was finalised in July 2013 and given to Remeike Forbes. I understand that a contract was agreed with him although this was without any involvement from me.

Remeike is clearly a very gifted graphic designer. He produced an absolutely inspired new logo for us which we have been using since August, and for which we paid him £500. But he isn’t, and doesn’t hold himself out to be, a programmer. Nor is he familiar with the content of our website.

Since July 2013 I have had very little communication with the Editorial Board. The Board has only met in person once, in December, but I was not invited to attend.

Remeike started work on the website in September 2013 and I did my best to respond to all his queries. There was only one issue which I persuaded him to change his ideas. He wanted to change the web address (the URL) of all our existing pages. I consulted Mike Little who provides our technical support. He agreed that this was both unnecessary and unhelpful. It would break all the internal and external links to the site and slow down the operation of the server. Rebuilding the links would be an immense job, taking months of work.

Remeike suggested we launch the new design over the weekend of 26th October, and I happily agreed with that as we had reached the point when we needed to see how the design stands up in the real world. We found a number of problems in the first fortnight which Remeike and I fixed between us. There are still a few minor issues, but I am seriously concerned that since the end of November Remeike has not responded to any communication from me.

I have no quarrel with any of the stated objectives of the Editorial Board. I differ from them only in believing that we must work incrementally, by making improvements in what we already have, rather than focusing exclusively on a vision of perfection. I’m pleased with the changes we have implemented, and there is clearly much more work to be done. I am also frustrated that the Board have made it very clear that they don’t want my contributions. However I have not seen their contributions. I am quite happy to work towards their vision and under their direction but when I enquire what they think about changes to the site they refuse to respond.

Their most substantial decision so far has been to decide that the briefing page on Private business and the NHS and the discussion document about our policy should be removed from public view. I have several times been told to make no changes to the site. That is not helpful advice. The whole point of a WordPress site is that it changes all the time in response to outside events and to contributions. Since June I have made as few changes as possible and I am now very unhappy about the state of the site. The campaigning material we were displaying in June is no longer relevant, but we have not produced anything new. I would very much appreciate the support and advice which Central Council envisaged when they established an Editorial Board but that requires the establishment of a dialogue which I hope can now take place.

This article on Getting The Website Information Architecture Right: How to Structure Your Site for Optimal User Experiences which Noemi sent me looks to be an excellent basis on which to proceed.  Our website gets quite a lot of traffic and we need to think more carefully about who is using it and what we can offer them.