We recently held the first meeting of our Better Lives Board and I thought it might be useful to say a little bit about why we have set this up and what we hope the new board will help us achieve. I also wanted to mention one particular event that took place last week which I think illustrates a key point about the board, namely, why involving service users in everything we do, is so important.
The Better Lives Board, as stated in our plain English terms of reference for the Board (and we have committed to making sure plain English is used at the Board, particularly in written documents) “meets to talk about care and support in Leeds and what can be done better for people who need our help”.
The board is made up of a number of service user representatives, individuals representing third sector organisations in the city including Healthwatch, Councillors from the main parties on the Council, officers from Health, Adult Social Care and Public Health.
It was suggested that the board should have a co-chair and that this person should be a service user and we agreed at the Board meeting to seek nominations from people who would be interested in doing this role. So hopefully by the time of the next meeting we will have a service user co-chair alongside me. This person will not only help to chair meetings but also to shape agendas and the work programme and direction of the board.
Another point that the service user representatives and third sector representatives were really keen to stress was the importance of their representative role – they are there to give the views of those they represent and I think that goes for all of us on the Board too. Equally important is that we have to allow members of the board time to take issues raised at the board back to their groups and to seek their views.
Similarly everyone agreed that this can’t just be another talking shop. It has actually got to make a difference.
With this in mind the main area for discussion at the first meeting was around social isolation and what can we do as a city to really make a difference. Rachel Cooper from Leeds Older People Forum and Mick Ward gave some background to the Big Lottery Fulfilling Lives Ageing Better bid that Leeds has been shortlisted for which, if successful, could bring between £2-6million into the city to help tackle social isolation. This helped to frame the discussions that took place and a key outcome was to recommend that Adult Social Care present a paper to the council’s Executive Board in spring next year pulling together cross council action we will be taking to make a serious impact on social isolation in the city. Some of the issues we agreed to investigate at future meetings included the care bill, urgent care and recommissioning of homecare to name a few.
The event I alluded to at the beginning of this piece was the opening of the new Vale Circles Centre at 12 Tunstall Road last week. The centre provides a safe and friendly environment for people with mental health problems to get support and help and is a replacement for The Vale in Hunslet. Sandie and I both said at the opening that we got wrong our original proposals for mental health day services, which was reflected by the response at that time from service users. However, thanks to a tremendous amount of work from Adult Social Care staff, working with service user representatives and stakeholders, an alternative set of proposals were co-produced for the service including the development of Vale Circles. So, with the Better Lives Board, we are learning the lessons of that experience and are making sure the voice of service users are heard right at the beginning. I will keep you informed of what ideas, proposals and recommendations emerge from the Board over the coming months.
Finally, can I take the opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Hopefully you will be slightly further on in your festive preparations than me (I have not yet bought a single present or written a card – yikes!)
Thank you for all your hard work this year and here’s to 2014!