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Shooting the messengers with Sian Caiach of People First

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siancaiachTHE ACTING chair of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Standards Committee recently told a full council meeting that they should all take a pat on the back for being so good at being so good.

He was referring to the way in which the council responds to complaints and whistle blowers as well as commenting on how the ombudsman saw the County Council’s performance on such matters. All in all Mr Christopher Downward painted a very pretty picture, which rather than receiving rapturous applause, drew a stunned silence.

The Herald reported recently on how the council had dealt with attempts by whistle blowers in relation to the Coastal Care Programme and how the unions were adamant that members of staff had raised their concerns about financial irregularities and mismanagement but as Mark Evans of UNISON put it, had been subject of disciplinary action themselves.

The Herald spoke to one such public sector employee who offered to enlighten our readers as to what happens to observant and diligent members of staff who ‘blow the whistle’. People First AM candidate for Llanelli Sian Caiach began by saying:

“Bad news is rarely welcome. When public sector workers point out internal problems that need to be addressed they are unlikely to be praised for their diligence. More likely they will find themselves bullied, reviled and persecuted to the point that they are forced to leave their work. Careers and reputations are often destroyed and the problems identified may never actually be addressed.”

Sian was a successful orthopaedic consultant surgeon who chose to become a whistle blower. Here Sian sets out what happened when she spoke out. She says: “I lost my own career in medicine as an orthopaedic consultant surgeon in Llanelli after blowing the whistle on two issues. One was a private practice scam where surgeons operated for free on private patients in NHS theatres using NHS resources, displacing NHS waiting list patients who had waited in pain for months and charging private patients who had no idea that their surgery , tests and implants were paid for by the state. The other was a senior colleague of mine whose failing eyesight appeared to be affecting the quality of his patients’ care.”

Talking about how she was dealt with when she asked questions she told us: “My concerns were ignored and I was warned that if I continued making these allegations I would lose my job and never work again. That was indeed true. I was offered a £30,000 settlement provided I left Llanelli and agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement. I did not.

I was forced to leave after three years of suspension and becoming deskilled. I never worked again in the NHS and have had very little work as a doctor in the last decade. “Unfortunately a reputation as a “snitch” is a worse handicap than being a dangerously incompetent doctor who may have crippled or even killed several people.”

The repercussions for speaking out continued to affect Sian’s career. She told The Herald, “After leaving my job in 2005 I was banned, unlawfully as far as I can deduce, from entering any building in the Hywel Dda Trust except as a patient or accompanying a close relative “Former chief executive Mr Trevor Purt (who has departed a subsequent post in North Wales under a cloud) admitted to me that this was not legal, but his replacement Mr Steve Moore has reimposed the ban, barring me from medical meetings and using the medical libraries.

The ban was supposed to “protect the mental health of my former medical colleagues. Clearly some senior consultants still feel emotionally fragile at the prospect of setting eyes on me.” Sian Caiach turned her skills and energy towards another institution hoping to serve the people and community of Carmarthenshire in another way. She said: “I realise now that I won’t get back to being a practicing doctor and I’ve been an elected County Councillor in Carmarthenshire since 2008.

I didn’t expect to find the same culture of “shoot the messenger” in County Hall. After all, my old consultant colleagues who were in on the scamming were making a tidy personal profit on the deal and had a lot of motive to keep it going. Why would management in a local authority not wish service problems to be reported to them? Surely they had nothing personal at stake in such issues, and surely improving service to the public outweighs any embarrassment over an oversight or genuine mistake?”

Now C llr Caiach, Sian soon found herself meeting with other whistle blowers but this time within the County Council and she was shocked and dismayed that in fact they appeared to be getting the same or similar treatment to that, which she had encountered within the Health Service. Sian told The Herald: “Sadly this is not the case. Since I’ve been a councillor I’ve met several current and former members of Council staff who had become whistleblowers, then found themselves under attack after making their disclosures. Just like my experience in the NHS, they may be transferred to other posts, heavily criticised and reported for any minor incidents, have their views and wishes ignored and accused of being disloyal, bad coworkers, etc.

It’s bullying with menaces, reminiscent of incidents I have experienced myself, so I do have a lot of sympathy. “It’s always hard to prove that you have been victimised as an individual, but when a number of people are treated in a similar way it looks like a systemic response.”

Speaking about articles in this newspaper which have highlighted the fate of whistleblowers and the intimidation meted out to them, Sian Caiach said : “The Herald has recently exposed the Coastal project problem where workers were asked to alter time sheets , something which would allow European money to be used to support other clients who normally would be paid for out of the usual council budget. There is no doubt in my mind from the evidence I’ve seen that this happened and that the messengers were shot. The mystery, of course, is why it all happened; who decided to do it and why? The person who deserves reprimand is surely the one who had the bright idea to cook the books.

What we have ended up with is a situation where there has been a problem with a council project and the people who were uncomfortable with altering the records under orders are the ones who have paid the price.” Painting a bleak picture of the consequences of dealing with whistle blowers by aiding a cover up rather than addressing their concerns Sian Caiach said : “This matters, and not only because of the injustice and suffering caused to the whistleblowers. It is also a grave concern to taxpayers that managers of public services appear more concerned with covering up problems than solving them. How can we trust our public services to be open and transparent to the public if this is how they behave?

“Cllr Caiach concluded: “It may be human nature to disguise failure but when deception becomes almost institutional it is extremely worrying. If these actions are generated at middle management simply to hide their problems from the executive staff, the leaders of our public institutions are in the dark about what is really going on. If the senior management decides to aid the cover up it is the public and our Government who are being deceived. In either case, public sector workers are thoroughly discouraged from speaking out when things go wrong, and when that happens and we are all losers in the end.”

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Education Minister announces ‘back to school’ plans for September

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Decision backed with £29 million to recruit, recover and raise standards

The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, has today confirmed that all pupils will be able to return to school in September.

“plan to open in September with 100% of pupils physically present on school sites, subject to a continuing, steady decline in the presence of COVID-19 in the community.”

The Minister announced that:
 Schools will return to full capacity, with only limited social distancing within contact groups.
 At full operations, a contact group should consist of around 30 children.
Some direct or indirect mixing between children in different contact groups will also be unavoidable, such as on transport, receiving specialist teaching or due to staffing constraints.
 Social distancing for adults should remain in line with regulations and
guidance.
 Schools will be required to minimise the risk of transmission by taking other mitigating measures using the hierarchy of risk controls.
 Every school should continue to be “Covid Protected” – having carried out
risk assessments and mitigated them with a combination of controls such
as hand and surface hygiene, one-way systems and so forth.
 If early warning information shows a local incident or outbreak then nearby schools should implement appropriate restriction measures.
 Each school will be provided with a supply of home testing kits.
The Minister confirmed that the autumn term will start on 1 st  September and schools that can accommodate all pupils from the start of the term should do so.

The Minister outlined plans just hours after confirming the Welsh Government would make £29m available to ‘recruit, recover and raise standards’ in Welsh schools in response to the impact still felt from the pandemic.

Commenting on the additional funding announced, the Minister added: “We will recruit, recover and continue to raise standards.”

It is thought that there will be around 800 newly qualified teachers in September and around 800 supply staff currently working within Wales.

“With this funding, we will recruit the equivalent of 600 extra teachers and 300 teaching assistants throughout the next school year.

“We will target extra support at Years 11, 12 and 13, as well as disadvantaged and vulnerable learners of all ages.

“The support package, provided at a school level, could include extra coaching support, personalised learning programmes and additional time and resources for exam year pupils.

“We must never lower our expectations for any of our young people, no matter their background.

“Together, we will continue to raise standards for all, reduce the attainment gap and ensure we have a system that is a source of pride and public confidence.”

Councillor Ian Roberts, WLGA Spokesperson for Education, said: “Since schools closed at the start of the crisis, many children and young people have felt anxious about loss of learning and not being able to see their friends.

The Minister’s plan today will enable schools to safely reopen classrooms from September. Local authorities will work closely with their schools to make sure that necessary arrangements are in place to abide by Welsh Government guidance.

“Our schools have been hit by severe disruption during this pandemic, and we welcome the £29m pledged by the Minister for targeted support to minimise the effects of the past few months on pupils. We will continue to work together in partnership the safest and best possible learning experiences for our children and young people, especially in such challenging circumstances.”

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Police urge visitors to stay safe and respect Wales as travel ban is lifted

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POLICE are urging visitors to say safe and respect Wales as they get set to welcome visitors this weekend.

Dyfed-Powys Police has issued a message to people preparing to travel to mid and west Wales after the requirement to stay local was lifted on Monday (Jul 6), asking them to be safe, sensible and respectful.

With people now able to travel around Wales and to cross the border into the country, coupled with a fine weather forecast, police are expecting visitors to arrive in droves to enjoy the Dyfed-Powys area.

Temporary Chief Inspector Andy Reed said: “We are very lucky to police beautiful areas across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys, which attract thousands of visitors every week over the summer months.

“With restrictions having been in place since March, we understand that people are now keen to venture further afield and enjoy the beaches, mountains and countryside they’ve missed, and are anticipating a busy weekend ahead.

“Our officers look forward to welcoming you, and will be here if you need any help, but we ask that you help us by being respectful of the areas you visit, and by planning your journey before you set off.”

For anyone travelling to areas they are not familiar with, police are recommending that they plan their route in advance, check traffic updates regularly online and by listening to local radio stations, and be prepared to turn around or reroute if necessary.

T/CI Reed said: “Many of the areas that are popular with tourists aren’t served by main roads, but by B roads that can become backlogged very quickly.

“Nobody wants to spend hours stuck in traffic when they could be enjoying a day out, and there are ways to avoid this.

“If you’re heading to the beach in Pembrokeshire, for example, don’t set your sights on one place. Make a list of beaches you could visit, and be prepared to change your plans if you hit traffic off the main road.

“If you’re planning a hike in the Brecon Beacons, take a look at a few different walking routes – there are plenty of options besides Pen y Fan, which frequently gets overrun on sunny weekends and can cause problems on the roads with high volumes of traffic and parked cars.”

Over the past three months, Dyfed-Powys Police has implemented Operation Dovecote – an engagement, encouragement, education and enforcement approach to ensuring people adhered to the restrictions. With the ease in regulations, officers across the force will take a different approach this weekend – engaging with visitors, clamping down on antisocial behaviour and working with partner agencies to ensure places are left as they were found.

T/CI said: “Our officers will be out and about across the force, making sure everyone is staying safe and respectful. With that in mind, we ask that you be mindful of people who live in the areas you are visiting by acting responsibly – we will not tolerate antisocial or illegal behaviour that will impact on them or other tourists.

“Please park considerately, leave gates and property as you find them, be careful with barbecues and don’t light fires, keep dogs under control, and check what facilities will be open before you start your journey.

“We will be working closely with partners to protect beaches, countryside and waterways – you can help us by making sure you take all your rubbish and belongings with you, and leaving no trace of your visit.”

If you need to report an incident while visiting the Dyfed-Powys area, you can use one of the following options: Online: bit.ly/DPPReportOnline, Email: contactcentre@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk or Call 101.

If you are Deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

Always call 999 in an emergency

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YMCA Llanelli charity shop will reopen to the community on Friday 10 July

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AFTER more than 14 weeks of being closed for business, YMCA Llanelli will be throwing open its doors and welcoming back much-loved customers, donors and staff on Friday 10 July.

YMCA Llanelli is one of 10 shops due to reopen over the next week as part of YMCA England and Wales’ second phase, which aims to restore more than 80 shops to their local communities by the end of the month.  

Across all of its reopened stores, YMCA will be adhering to government guidelines with additional cleaning and social distancing measures, alongside hand gel stations at each entrance to ensure a safe environment for customers and colleagues.  

Once doors are officially open donations to YMCA Llanelli are very welcome, and if donors have any questions or concerns before dropping items off, please feel free to call ahead. 

One challenge that the current crisis has created is that YMCA has fewer volunteers than before, so alongside donations staff are also appealing for volunteers to help them get back up and running. Without the dedication of hundreds of volunteers YMCA charity shops wouldn’t be possible, and so YMCA Llanelli is calling on anyone locally who may be able to help.  

Simon Green, Head of Retail at YMCA England & Wales said: “The retail team have been working extremely hard to reopen stores in a way which keeps customers, staff and the community safe, and we can’t wait to welcome everyone back for the first time since 23 March.

“It truly is a privilege to serve at the heart of communities, providing not only the chance for customers to find bargains and recycle goods, but also to gain employment experience and create new friendships. We have missed you and we are delighted to be back.”  

Money raised at YMCA charity shops across England and Wales is used to help transform the lives of young people across almost 740 local communities. From providing a warm bed for homeless young people to delivering mental health advice and counselling for those in need. Every donation or hour volunteered makes a huge difference.

To find your local YMCA shop, enquire about donations or find out about volunteering opportunities, please visit: https://www.ymca.org.uk/shops or call 0207 186 9585.

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