Have you noticed how often you hear a government Minister or politician or MP starting a radio or TV broadcast with the words’ Today I can announce…’ It is a phase that I was only too familiar with when I was working as the Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health and it appears that it has crossed the party boundary and it has been a passed like some sort of batten into this administration.
‘Today I can announce…’ acts as some sought of marker that a significant announcement is about to be made, that we should be amazed at the generosity and skill of this administration. And for the Minister it seems to provide a full stop – ‘my work is done!’
The reality that those in the public sector know, is that the Minister’s work may be done but theirs has just started. You may recall in the run up to the 2005 elections Tony Blair, then Prime Minster, being confronted on a TV debate about GP appointments. In April 2005 Tony Blair was put on the spot over the issue on BBC1’s Question Time, when members of the audience told him they could only book appointments within 48 hours, or on the same day, because of Government targets. You may recall Tony Blair’s surprise that there was a problem. Why? Because he had some years before announced that we would no longer wait for a GP appointment; He had a rude wakening, to what we all knew, to announce something does not make it happen. In the images used by Charlse Handy, the NHS like many other public sectors, is an Elephant and not a Bee (Handy C. 2002 the elephant and the flea Arrow. see blog 21st September 2010) .
So I am concerned that running through our media are Ministers announcing that things will get better. The launch of the Mental Health Strategy on the 2nd February is good news and announces the development of a social Movement. The Department of Health claims ‘that No health without mental health: a cross-Government mental health outcomes strategy for people of all ages represents a major step forward in mainstreaming mental health and supporting the Government’s important aim of achieving parity of esteem between physical and mental health. It has been produced in collaboration with many of the Department’s partner organisations. It will enable more decisions about people’s mental health to be taken locally, and stresses the interconnections between mental health, housing, employment, and the criminal justice system’.
The strategy has been welcomed by Non government organisations. Director of ‘Time – To- Change’ Sue Baker, writes on their web site:
“We welcome the news that the government plan to commit some funds to Time to Change in the future, along with the promise to tackle stigma and discrimination and place this “at the heart” of the new strategy. We also pleased to see recognition that, in order to achieve major social change, there needs to be a “major and sustained social movement”
Which is all well and good, but we have to remember that announcing a strategy does not mean that his will happen and all this has been announced on the back of government spending cuts which are hitting Voluntary groups. Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, who is retiring from the Community Service Volunteers (CSV) after 36 years, said there was no “strategic plan” to spending cuts and she told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the 7th February that cuts are “destroying” volunteering and undermining the government’s “big society” vision” . She said “there are a lot of very worthwhile programmes – for example volunteers working in child protection as promoted by the minister for children – which are now under threat of closure.”
I am a supporter of the concept of a Big Society and of developing a social movement which promotes mental health but to announce it is not to deliver it and to give with one and cut with another will not achieve real change.