Do you want the good news first or the bad news?
It’s not unusual to have a lot going on in life, and sometimes good news and bad news do seem to come along together. I sing in a Church music group, and recently I heard the sad news of the death of the father of one of the group, alongside the lovely news that two other group members are about to become grandparents for the first time. Sorrow, sympathy and condolences alongside joy, delight and congratulations.
The good news I want to share is the success and positive impact of our 2017 DCP annual conference “The Future is Now” and our Conference fringe events. This year we held our annual conference in January (a change from previous years) and with an influx of new Conference Organising Committee members, including a new Chair (Laura Golding), and the novel addition of a Conference Fringe, we were expecting a lot. We were not disappointed!
The conference was held at a super venue in Liverpool where all delegates could easily mingle and access everything they needed, including easy access to normal life outside (shops, restaurants, the scenic dock area) rather than feeling in a “conference bubble” which can happen with more isolated venues. Following a very warm joint welcome from myself and DCP England EbE Lead Jo Hemmingfield, the programme got off to a fantastic start with an opening keynote from Nimisha Patel on Human Rights and Clinical Psychology. This set the tone for a strongly outward-facing Conference with a focus on how Clinical Psychology can be a force for good in the wider world, but also challenging us to reflect on whether we always come up to the mark, or can even do unintentional harm. The opportunities to make a positive difference even in the most challenging of environments were vividly illustrated by Rachel Calam, who described and evaluated work done on enhancing parenting skills personalised to the needs of parents in war-torn parts of the world, where information was even delivered to families along with their provision of bread from aid workers. Hearing about Nimisha and Rachel’s work was inspiring and humbling.
Further challenge to address complex issues in today’s world came in the form of a protest outside the Conference on the first day, from a group of activists, psychologists, service users and carers, who were protesting about the role of Psychologists in the DWP access to work programme.
We decided to invite some representatives of the group to speak to the conference delegates directly, and Peter Kinderman, BPS President, kindly offered some of the time allocated to his keynote on the second day. The protestors made their points in an assertive but balanced way, and this included a lot of positive feedback on the benefits of psychology and psychological therapy. The role of the BPS in negotiating with the DWP was debated, and Peter put a strong argument for continuing to negotiate and not letting complex issues be reduced to “binary questions”.
A great feature of the conference was the evidence of co-production, with 19 papers or sessions co-produced and co-presented with Experts by experience, and a very moving keynote address by Joe Powell (National Director of All Wales People First) who spoke about his lived experience of autism. It was hard to hear how appalling Joe’s experiences of “care” have been, and what a difficult journey through life he has had. Joe spoke very warmly about how clinical psychology specifically has helped him, and it was fantastic to see how far he has come on a journey of recovery (or perhaps discovery?).
The programme was packed with interesting sessions and it was often difficult to choose which of parallel sessions to attend. This is another sign of a great programme! However, we have (as a DCP Executive committee) decided to reduce the 2018 DCP Conference programme to 2 days, in order to see whether this will make the conference accessible to more of our members. This is important because we invest a lot of money, time and effort into the annual conference and we want to be sure we are using our resources to the benefit of our members.
The Conference Fringe was a new venture this year; each evening and all day on the Saturday, delegates and the general public could choose from a wide range of arts based events, all with a mental health theme. Music, drama, poetry, art, even knitting! – a fantastic range of events! Many thanks to Ste Weatherhead and colleagues for proposing this and making it happen. The impact was evident in the enthusiasm of attendees and post-session discussions.
So the conference and the conference fringe were overwhelmingly positive. But it’s not all good news, and at the AGM I had to share some bad news. As you may remember, approximately 3 ½ years ago the BPS told us they were reviewing arrangements for recompense for DCP leadership roles (due to legislative changes in the charitable sector, see links supplied by the BPS Hon. Treasurer: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2016/4/contents/enacted https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tackling-abuse-and-mismanagement-2015-16 ), and that although current arrangements could be extended, no new arrangements could be put in place until the review was concluded. This led to our elections being postponed for two years running. The review led to a new draft recompense policy, which despite feedback as to its drawbacks was eventually approved by the Board of Trustees in approximately May 2016 (unfortunately it had to be withdrawn a few weeks later as a result of further legal advice).
Towards the end of 2015, several key members of the DCP Executive announced they could no longer continue, and it was decided that elections would be held in early 2016 and a Special General Meeting (SGM) would be called, which took place on 10 May 2016. At this SGM a number of new officers were elected or co-opted including myself as Chair, Simon Gelsthorpe as Honorary Treasurer, Ste Weatherhead as PSU Director, Sheelagh Rodgers as MSU Director and Alex Stirzaker as DCP England Chair. All of these people took on these roles in good faith, expecting that a new model to replace the former recompense arrangements would be sorted out soon. We were informed that “contracts for services” would be the way forward and we started at once to work with BPS colleagues on suitable documentation.
Unfortunately, despite several points at which agreement has seemed to be reached, we still do not have any formal arrangement in place and we discovered in January just before the Annual Conference that the BPS considers that it is not able to backdate compensation to employers or individuals for the time given by those already in office. This means that since 10 May 2016, the activities of increasing numbers of the DCP Executive have effectively been funded by the NHS, HEIs and private individuals.
This has put the viability of the DCP Executive and other leadership roles at high risk and we are in a situation of crisis. Two key Exec members have resigned; Ste Weatherhead, PSU Director, and Alex Stirzaker, DCP England Chair. SE England branch Chair, Adrian Whittington, has also resigned, due to his concerns about a related matter. We have a short-term temporary interim contract for the role of Clinical Psychology Forum (CPF) Editor and hence CPF is also at risk.
We are unable to recruit to fill vacant roles, and all current remaining Exec members are considering their position. We are only able to offer a very limited service to our membership at this time, and this is hugely concerning as there is an urgent and very challenging agenda for our profession in the UK, especially at a time when in many areas funding for posts and for training is uncertain, and many areas are still dealing with the consequences of job losses and down-gradings. It is also very concerning that we find ourselves in this position at a time when there is a debate about whether Clinical Psychology in the UK would be better served by a Professional Body external to the BPS.
In accordance with the motion passed at the SGM on 10 May, we have been seeking the views of our members, and also of people eligible to be full members who are not members, on a range of questions. These questions are all concerned with how well the DCP represents and serves the profession of Clinical Psychology in its current form, and we have also started to elicit views about alternative models (such as an a College within the BPS) and the professional body function. Some ideas were outlined at the DCP Annual Conference, in a symposium convened by Bernard Kat and in our Representative Assembly and AGM, where Julia Faulconbridge gave some initial feedback on the SGM membership survey and the BPS Structural Review, from which new options may arise.