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Interview with Paul Dumbleton board member with experience as an unpaid carer

Paul joined the first Mental Welfare Commission Board as the board member with lived experience as a carer almost eight years ago.

As he nears completion of his term of office, and recruitment for his replacement begins, Paul reflected on his experience.

How did you find out about the role and what made you apply?

My wife spotted it advertised. I am a carer for a family member with learning disabilities, so I know some of the ups and downs of what that means and wanted to share my experience.

How was that first Board?

I was very pleased to see that the legislation stated there must be a person who was a 'carer' and had this perspective, and also someone with lived experience, on that first Board. 

One early contribution of the new board was getting the Commission to move on from sticking with medical and legal language in its publications. For example, I think most people would dispute they had a mental 'disorder'. It made the Commission seem very unfriendly towards people and their families, because people and their families don't think of themselves as disordered.

What about the word 'carer'?

I think particularly in the mental health word, it has become confused with care workers, paid staff. I don't think it's a terribly useful term, although as it is more frequently used, that confusion is perhaps lessening.  "Friends and families" is still the term most people would understand and not confuse with paid staff.

Over your term, how has the Board influenced the organisation?

In this time we appointed the Commission's first chief executive who was not a doctor. That was a major change. The commitment to a less medical and more human rights approach has been like night and day.

Another influence was the Board's recommendation that the Commission create two new permanent staff posts, one for a person with lived experience of mental illness, and one for a family member/carer. It is quite radical; I can't think of any other organisation that has been as positive in making those changes.

A lot more effort has also been put into the advisory group, which has carer representation on it and is listened to more. Greater effort is put into making it work, and being a group we take advice from, instead of us informing them.

Overall I see a real difference in the Commission, the kicking around of ideas can be done quite openly now.

One factor that has not been for the better is the budget, which has not changed in the eight years since I joined. It puts pressure on staff and has an impact on what they can do.

What would you say to a potential applicant?

I'd certainly encourage them.  There are a lot of opportunities to learn new things and there are lots of opportunities to really influence the Commission.

For people who don't have Board experience, don't be put off - you will be supported in learning about financial and other management issues, either within the Commission, through CIPFA workshops and courses, or through Scottish Government training.

There have been a number of Board appointments recently, and the changeovers have all been smooth; people have taken up their new roles effectively. The real change will come with the Chair post (which is also being advertised now). It has been one of the pleasures of being on the board to have worked with Graham Forbes.

Stepping back from the Commission and looking more generally at the position of family carers, have you seen improvements in that time?

I suppose the honest answer is yes, in the sense that there's new legislation and it's been recognised better in the Commission. But I'm not sure that the experience of carers on the ground is hugely better, because the support services are not hugely better. It depends who they are caring for, and from my experience of people with learning disabilities coming through school and coming into adult services, I don't think they've got it any easier now. It's probably just as hard to get a meaningful life for a young adult. Just as much falls on families to get the information, take the action, co-ordinate it.

Final comment?

The Commission is doing things differently. I've been really pleased to see attempts to "visit" homeless people for example, not just visiting wards. It is going further to try to access people who are not in the system but perhaps ought to be. That's been another positive change.

It's been a good experience, and I'd recommend it.