February 14, 2018
By Bill Heaney
Red flags and red tape designed to tie up complaints about mental health issues
Provision has been made for the public to ask questions at an “Open Forum” at West Dunbartonshire Council meetings. The only anomaly about this supposedly “open” forum is that it is closed.
At least it is closed to some people such as Andrew Muir who has been a pain in the tail for the administrators of West Dunbartonshire Council, the associated Health and Social Care Partnership and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
Andrew, who lives in Dumbarton with his wife, Claire, has every right to be an irritant to these organisations whose usual stance (only stance?) is that they will brook no criticism.
They seldom, if ever, admit their mistakes and tie people up in endless miles of red tape.
They are prepared to spend thousands of pounds of public money, your money, to protect their sometimes-indefensible position and their self-perceived position of infallibility.
Someone should tell the Council, the HSCP and NHS Glasgow that a person who never made a mistake never made a discovery (Samuel Smiles).
These large organisations are also prepared to be sleekit about the way they go about their business.
For example, since they have a great deal of time and money on their hands, they want to obfuscate, ridicule and confuse the public. It’s all about them and very little about us.
Andrew Muir is what people in the public service business call a red flag person.
This means Andrew should be avoided at all times by any pen pusher worth the ink in his biro.
West Dunbartonshire Council Chief Executive Joyce White knew just what to do when Andrew’s request for an Open Forum Question landed on her desk recently.
She shunted it off to the Health and Social Care Partnership, a sort of Limbo organisation between the council and the NHS health board.
Rather pompously, one of the great army of highly-paid public service administrators was delegated to send a letter to Mr Muir telling him he would not be allowed to appear before the Open Forum.
She made it clear that while it was open to others, it certainly wasn’t open to him.
Her reply said: “The criteria for Open Forum questions includes that Questions should not seek to raise an issue where Council has provided an alternative appeal or other procedure to be followed.”
She maintained that from the material Andrew Muir had sent with his letter, his case fell into that category.
Recently appointed Beth Culshaw, Chief Officer, West Dunbartonshire Health and Social Care partnership in December 2017, advised Mr Muir that she was unable to identify any new issues that had not already been fully investigated as part of his original complaint made in 2008.
This complaint, which was considered by the Social Work Complaints Review Sub-Committee on 30 October, 2008, was not upheld.
So, ten years on, Ms Culshaw was therefore unable to reopen the case or listen to any new evidence or changes in circumstance that might throw new light on the situation.
“I regret I can be of no more assistance to you in this regard,” wrote the clerk who signed the letter to Mr Muir.
Andrew Muir and his wife, Claire, who was an Independent candidate in the last Westminster election in the West Dunbartonshire seat won from Labour by the SNP’s Martin Docherty-Hughes, has once again been left swinging in the wind.
He has not been allowed to ask his Open Forum question on March 5 when the council meets.
It would seem that whenever the bureaucrats and politicians around here have a serious problem which might reflect badly on them and their organisation the close ranks and opt for the red flag solution.
It could be argued that this stigmatises complainers with mental health problems or related mental health problems and makes them persona non-grata.
It would appear that SNP council leader Jonathan McColl is dodging the issue despite the fact that Andrew Muir has been courteous to a fault to him and his fellow councillors.
Mr Muir is asking for is that the council, through the health and social care partnership, have another look at the case he has brought to them. He claims he has new information on the case of his wife, Claire, who was detained under the Mental Health Act.
“New information shows that the previous investigation in 2008 was inaccurate and incomplete,” he told them.
Mr Muir added: “I don’t see that it should be particularly expensive to have a fresh investigation and the benefits to the community will be great in having the NHS under greater scrutiny and higher quality services. You will need to find three people with unbiased and inquiring personalities.
“You have previously said that a question cannot be asked about individual cases. If so this is an unnecessary barrier to the truth and explains why the NHS is authoritative, unaccountable and why they have closed much of our hospital in the last 15 years with impunity.”
What questions do Andrew and Claire Muir want answer to? There will be no peace of mind for them until they receive satisfactory answers.
They want full transcripts of the Mental Health Tribunals which Claire attended along with a letter from the Mental Welfare Commission detailing that the Mental Health Officer interview was “short”.
They also require a copy of an assessment by Dr Kirk Russell on day of Claire’s admission to the Christie Ward at Vale of Leven Hospital which stated “patient not obviously detainable”.
The Muirs are of the opinion that the correct procedures were not followed during the admission process. That is that there was no interview by the Mental Health Officer or contact with Mr Muir before the Short-Term Detention Certificate was completed.
It is Mr Muir’s view that Claire has never had a mental illness and has never posed any risk to anyone and that she received unnecessary medication throughout her detention.
He alleges that on or about 5th September 2006 she was ill-treated by being given a dangerous amount of medication and suffered severe bruising as a result.
And at Lochgilphead Hospital she received an unnecessary physical sexual examination
Community activists Councillor Jim Bollan and community councillor Rose Harvie can find nothing in the council’s standing orders which would prevent him putting his questions to the council in open forum.
Although Cllr Bollan considers that he may have to re-frame at least one of his questions.
Mr Muir claims it is nonsense to suggest he be barred from appearing when only recently a woman brought her own case before them. It involved a pony and access to a field where it grazes.
Perhaps the council considers the well-being of horses more important than the mental health issues of housewives?
Is their commitment to more sensitive treatment for mental patients by the NHS and related organisations anything more than fine sounding words from politicians, officials and public relations people?
If these words mean one thing though, it is that mental health issues have not received the attention they merit in the past.
Patients and their relatives deserve better, much better from the authorities and the council, which has taken the HSCP under its wing, should see to it that they are no longer treated as second class citizens.
Some people suffer from the fact that to others they appear to be eccentric, but that doesn’t mean they are mentally ill. Who is “normal” after all.