Peter Beresford giving a rousing address to the conference
The Mersey Care Trust’s annual conference was held in Liverpool on 6th November 2015. This year the theme was Service Users’ Voice: Change, Rights and Advocacy: What is the Reality?
I have reported at length on two previous Mersey Care conferences; I am afraid that this report will necessarily have to be briefer on this occasion.
The event was oversubscribed, with well over 200 delegates squeezing into the venue. As ever there was an impressive list of scheduled speakers, including Professor Martin Webber, Professor Peter Beresford, the human rights lawyer Peter Edwards, the Community Care journalist Andy McNicoll, and the erstwhile chair of the mental health steering committee of the now defunct College of Social Work Dr Ruth Allen. Indeed, it appeared as if there were almost as many speakers as there were delegates!
Roger Phillips, a presenter on Radio Merseyside with a keen interest in mental health, opened the conference. Emad Lilo, the intrepid organiser and manager of the Mersey Care Integrated Care Demonstrator Site Project, along with several of the Trust AMHP’s then outlined projects and other development work they had undertaken during the year.
Peter Edwards discussed the thorny issue of whether the rights of service users could actually be exercised, or were in effect illusory, then the Masked AMHP himself presented a case study of an assessment under the Mental Health Act, arguing that the AMHP has an advocacy role, and that an AMHP can successfully take a deliberately low key approach to assessment. A version of this case study was subsequently published in Community Care Magazine. You can read it here.
The morning was rounded off by an extraordinary presentation by members of the People First Merseyside organisation. This is a user led self advocacy organisation for people with learning difficulties. It has been in operation for over 25 years.
The staff and volunteers (most of whom were service users) gave an excellent dramatised presentation on the right (and wrong!) ways to approach people with learning difficulties who require assistance with a health problem, as well as showing exactly what people with learning difficulties can achieve when given encouragement and empowerment. It was entertaining, educational, and moving.
Peter Beresford kicked off the afternoon with an, as ever, eloquent, incisive and stirring dissection of the failings of current mental health policy and practice, tearing into the current Government plans and exposing an apparent deliberate intention to dismantle the NHS and marginalise disadvantaged people.
Ann Williams, Commissioning & Contract Manager for Liverpool City Council, gave a presentation on the roles of the Independent Mental Capacity Advocate and the Independent Mental Health Advocate, followed by Jake Mills.
Jake Mills is a stand up comedian. In 2013, he experienced a severe period of depression, during which he came close to committing suicide. As a result of this, he set up the mental health charity Chasing the Stigma which aims to “normalise and humanise mental illness.” He gave an intensely moving, but also funny account of his experiences.
The last session was Naomi Good, Regional Development & Research Manager of the National Survivor User Network for Mental Health. Her presentation was entitled Survivor Voices: Re-authoring Disrupted Identities. She outlined research she had done into the experiences of mental health service users.
Unfortunately, time constraints meant that some speakers, such as Professor Martin Webber, literally only had five minutes to speak, and of three intended Q&A sessions, only the one featuring Andy McNicoll and Ruth Allen actually went ahead. This meant that a number of prominent people in the mental health field did not have an opportunity to be heard.
I suppose this is a consequence of the popularity of these annual conferences, not just for delegates, but for speakers as well. Emad Lilo, who organises these events, appears to have boundless energy and enthusiasm, and this is reflected in the very real buzz that permeates the day.
This was the third Mersey Care Conference I have attended, and I very much hope to have the opportunity to speak at future ones.