Wednesday, 19 December 2012

from VoX to FoG, a focus group for gathering user views

I have come to the conclusion that in the Scottish mental health world there is some confusion regarding the meaning of 'user led'.  Which should mean led by service users, obviously, as in they make the decisions, they lead the agenda, they speak out on behalf of the membership.  Who have a voice and can raise issues from their localities, where they live and use mental health/psychiatric services.

Otherwise it's not user-led.  And an example of this is VoX which claims to be "a National Mental Health Service User Led organisation" but isn't interested in the local situation, according to one of their founding management group.  Who lives in the same Scottish area as the board Chair, a paid worker with government organisation Healthcare Improvement Scotland.  Keeping it in the family sort of a thing.

The irony is that VOX only allows full membership from 'user-led groups'.  And yet they are government led, or at the very least a focus group for gathering user views for the government.  Which is fine, as long as they are not trying to mislead the membership by saying that VoX is user-led.  It clearly isn't.  For critical user voices are unwelcome and membership seems to be of the 'pick and mix' variety.  The board picks who can join the mix.

Hierarchical shenanigans and a bit of an embarrassment, speaking as an activist and campaigner in mental health matters.  And as a community development worker of over 30yrs, I do know what being 'user-led' means.  It's a grassroots movement, from the bottom up, where people with things/issues in common get together to improve the situation for everyone.  It's definitely not a top-down affair, working hand-in-glove with government. 

Therefore I suggest that VoX change their name to FoG - Focus Group, or even, if you like, Government FoG.  (we've got one like this in Fife, led by social workers)  A focus group for gathering views of mental health service users, by government, to improve services.  Picking and choosing who should go to events, who should represent the user voice on committees and groups.  It's what they are doing anyway so it makes sense to have the name change.

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