Sunday 19 August 2012

Vital health elections underway in Brent

It was unfortunate that only three members of Brent LINk (Local Involvement Network) who were not candidates turned up for the Management Committee elections hustings on Friday.  Candidates out-numbered the rank and file by about 6 to 1.  LINk in Brent gives local people  a say in how health and social care services are commissioned, provided and improved. The organisation has about 750 members. Website HERE

Clearly the role is very important at a time of enormous upheaval in health and social care provision and the current plans in Shaping a Healthier Future which will see several Accident and Emergency facilities in North West London closing and other services down-graded or handed over to private providerss.

In addition Brent LINk is due to be replaced by an organisation with even more powers and responsibilities called Brent HealthWatch.  BHW will be a 'corporate body' with it own legal authority to carry out its functions and will be subject to legislative compliance.  It will be an independent organisation with a seat on the local health and well-being board and will be able to appoint its own staff.

Brent LINk could be transformed into Brent HealthWatch but other  voluntary organisations, social enterprises and charities would be able to make bids when the service was procured.

This raises a major issue in terms of the LINk election which is already one for governing bodies of schools. How do you balance the contribution of local people with in-depth experience as users of local services and that of professionals with the skills to frame a successful bid for the BrentWatch brief and the experience to appoint and manage staff, plans budgets and undertake research. Things are made more complicated by the fact that the budget for the new organisation which will come from HealthWatch England via Brent Council is not yet known.

The LINk Management Committee has 10 places, 5 for individuals and 5 for representatives of organisations. Five organisation put forward candidates so there will be no election for those posiitons. They are John Bryne of Brent MIND. Elcena Jeffers from the Elcena Jeffers Foundation, Prakash Mandalia from B.Heard, Anne O'Neil from Brent Mencap and Lola Osikoya from the Amazing Grace Women's Association.

There are 17 candidate for the five individual positions. New voting cards will be sent to LINk members to replace the green cards sent out last week which lacked clarity about voting method. There will be a further hustings on September 13th 7-9pm at Brent Asssociation for Disabled People, Main Hall, Robson Avenue, NW10 3RY. The voting dedline is 19th September 2012, Count 21st September, and first meeting of the new Management Committee on 27th September.

Brian Hoe Hunt, a consultant working on HealthWatch, was at pains to emphasise that the new organisation must be able to show that it truly represents the voice of the local community and that this requires carefull research and an evidence base.  It has to be able to demonstrate that the views it puts forward are actively backed up by the community.

With this in mind candidates were asked about the future of the Central Middlesex A&E and privatisation. I noted that many candidates has concentrated (quite rightly) on the needs of older people asked them what they thought the main priorities were for the health and well-being of Brent young people at a time of recession, benefit cuts and a housing crisis.

Emma Tait made clear her opposition to the Central Middlesex A&E closure and said that as a member of Brent Fightback she recognised the connections between all the various cuts and 'reforms' that would eventually impact on each other and  health in the community.  She emphasised her professional management experience in social work, and as the Executive Director of the National Back Pain Association, her ability to lead groups, write reports and speak publicly but she also stressed the need for independence and public campaigning.

Robert Esson said that he had first heard about the Central Middlesex A&E closure on TV which was clearly wrong, and told the audience that he has been assured 3 years ago by NW London NHS that it would remain open. He spoke about the waste of the £65m investment in the hospital and the iniquities of PFI.

Philemon  Sealy said that no way should Brent LINk be an advocate of government policy and regretted that the organisation hadn't stood up to the government more.

On the other hand Mansukh Raichura said that he ws involved in the NW London Hospitals merger programme.  He stressed the need to be 'realistic'. Samer Ahmedali told the audience that he was chair of Brent North Conservatives and lived in Harrow. He knew the local community because he worked for Wembley ASDA and wanted to give something back.

Loletta Cameron-Hayles on the issue of young people said that she was concerned about the opportunities that would be available to local children post-Olympics with no playing fields in the South of Brent, others being sold off, swimming lessons discontinued, and supervisors replacing teachers. She had grave concerns about the services they would get.

Maurice Hoffman said that 90% of Brent children were healthy (there were some dissension here) and it wasn't for Management Committee members to say what their needs are. They have to get out there and speak to them but also find out what provisions remains in terms of school nurses and particular projects.

Colin Babb, Brent LINk Coordinator said that the question of how they engage with young people was fundamental. There was a Young LINk organisation engaging with 16-19 year olds and a Young Advocacy Programme aimed at ensuring that young people were involved in articulating their own voice. However a younger LINk member voiced her frustration that funding for a youth development worker had been cut.  The LINk's work was useless without adequate resources. Prakash Mandalia added that however good strategies were they were no good without resources.

Cllr Sandra Kabir, Chair of the Health Partnerships Overview and Scrutiny Committee who introduced the meeting complimented the work of LINk's task groups but voiced her concern that the most vulnerable Brent groups will be most affected by the proposed health service changes.

Cllr Krupesh Hirani, Lead Member for Adults and Health, was not present but it is top be hoped that he will make the next hustings.

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