At the Annual General Meeting of the 2gether NHS Foundation Trust, Gloucestershire’s mental health trust, on September 21st, I was pleased to be welcomed as one of the Trust’s new public governors for its Cotswolds constituency. I had been appointed in August following an election in which three people had stood for the two positions available.
As the AGM is a public meeting, I have no hesitation in writing about it here. Other aspects of my role as governor are not so clear-cut, however, as they might involve parts of the Trust’s strategy that are not yet public. In general I’ll try to err on the side of caution and write about things that are clearly in the public domain or my own opinion, but I know I could easily be wrong-footed in this by information that the Trust or some other body makes public unexpectedly, or that comes to light as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.
Anyone living in the Cotswolds district of Gloucestershire is welcome to use this website’s Contact page to contact me on issues relating to the Trust. The official ways to contact governors are listed on the Governors page of the Trust’s website, and they all mean going through the Trust Secretary. While there’s nothing actually wrong in that, I don’t think it gives exactly the right impression.
The AGM was chaired by the Chair of the Trust, Baroness Rennie Fritchie, who, in her opening remarks, emphasized the things that are important for the Trust:
patients, carers, and the road to recovery
Chief Executive, Shaun Clee, summarized the Annual Report, although as it only covers the period to March he also described some things that had happened in the months since then. He made a potentially boring subject surprisingly interesting, and he covered a lot of material from which I will mention only a couple of items.
The Trust’s tender for providing services for children and young people had been successful. The service began in April, or maybe July, and it is called CYPS (“Children and Young People Service, pronounced like “sips”). This partly resolves the mystery of the competition to find a name for the service that I mentioned a year ago in Making Life Better, but I still don’t know who won. The service is provided in partnership with the voluntary and private sectors, although the Annual Report itself doesn’t mention that.
Challenges for the Trust include better handling of serious incidents, which currently show that carers don’t always feel listened to, and better use of the many premises that the Trust operates from, some of which are less than ideal.
The Trust also serves Herefordshire, and it provides an IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service in South Gloucestershire.
Among the questions from the audience, Trish Thomas of Gloucester Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), thanked the Trust and particularly Gordon Benson, its Assistant Director for Clinical Governance, for their support in organizing the conference a few weeks ago, which I described in Averting Crisis. However, she made a sobering reference to those serious incidents that Shaun Clee had just mentioned, reminding everyone that in SOBS:
We only hear when it’s not gone right.
Bren McInerney, Vice-Chair of Gloucestershire LINk, congratulated the Trust on its good relationships with other bodies (such as the LINk) but expressed concern about the low response (54%) to the staff survey:
I’m more concerned about the voices we don’t hear.
It’s not clear, though, that these opinions about relationships and Trust staff genuinely reflect local involvement, because as a member of the LINk I don’t think I have ever been asked about those issues. The apparent disconnect between the LINk’s public statements and it’s opinion-gathering activities extends to its formal written response published in the Trust’s Annual report, which offers advice on several more issues that ordinary LINk members have never been asked about.
As a governor of the Trust and a member of the LINk this puts me in a slightly embarrassing position, because I am beginning to suspect that few of the contributions the LINk makes to other bodies reliably reflect the involvement of Gloucestershire people.
Sandra Betney, Director of Finance, outlined the Trust’s strong financial position. She, too, made a potentially boring subject sound interesting. She was careful to explain that the Trust’s surplus is not evil profit, but is used for nice cuddly things like new buildings.
Ros Taylor, Lead Governor, presented the Council of Governors’ Annual report. She became the exception that proved the rule by making a potentially interesting subject very boring, apparently struggling to find any clear example of where governors had made a difference in the past year.
On the subject of Trust membership she remarked that membership in the Cotswolds is particularly low. The Trust has 377 members in the Cotswolds (compared with 311 individual LINk members in the whole of Gloucestershire), but other Trust constituencies do have many more members.
It’s not clear to me how many members a Trust or a LINk should have, and it doesn’t seem to be clear to anyone else either. Perhaps if the Council of Governors had a go at answering some of those broad strategic questions it might have more of substance to report at future AGMs.