The Independent has today published a brilliant column by Mark Steel about Karen’s case. You can also read it in full below.
Until recently, no one seemed to have worked out how to apply budget cuts and privatisation to the field of care for the mentally ill. I’m sure think-tanks have come up with suggestions, such as sponsoring the voices in paranoid people’s heads. So patients could say “Now, instead of being warned that the man behind me is a secret agent trying to kill me, I’m told I can’t get quicker than a Kwik-Fit fitter. I’ve not got in nearly so many fights but I’ve spent my life’s savings on exhaust pipes.”
But then the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, in an effort to cut its budget by £5 million, began transferring patients to the voluntary sector, where staff were paid much less than by the Trust. So one nurse, Karen Reissman, who campaigned aganist this tactic, was suspended and then sacked, on a magnificent set of surreal charges. The first was that she was “interviewed for an article opposing the transfer of NHS care … affecting the reputation of the Trust.”
For example, she mentioned that because of cuts, there were 24 patients being kept in 20 beds. Presumably, what the staff are supposed to say if they’re asked why patients are complaining there’s two in a bed is “Oh don’t worry, that’s the schizophrenics for you.”
An elderly ward has been closed, and a thousand patients have had to change the nurse assigned to them, so obviously the person who affects the reputation of the Trust is the person who mentions this in an interview. It was the same in Abu Ghraib. Its bad reputation is all down to the disloyal types who grumbled they were coming out of there feeling a bit sore. Up until then it had four stars in the Michelin Guide.
The next reason for her sacking was that, having been suspended, “she told people she had been suspended”. No wonder they’ve got more mentally ill people than they can cope with if that’s considered sane.
How are you supposed to not tell people you’ve been suspended? What a wonderfully chaotic world if this rule applied everywhere, with no one allowed to tell anyone they’d been suspended or sacked. Charles Clarke and Blunkett would have to turn up every day at the Home Office, pretend to deport someone and come home again. Whenever England played football, every ex-manager back to Bobby Robson would have to jump along the touchline, swearing and pretending they were still running the team.
But the next charge went further – she was also sacked because “she told people she was innocent”. This takes the matter beyond the issue of industrial relations and creates a philosophical puzzle. It would certainly transform the legal system if a judge could say, “I find you not guilty of armed robbery. However, on the more serious charge of telling people you were innocent I find you guilty”. Maybe the Trust could come up with extra charges along these lines, such as “she contemplated the nature of innocence”, or “she offended the concept of perfection by considering human innocence despite our essentially flawed soul”.
Being guilty of saying you’re innocent is the sort of crime you read about in some crazed dictatorship run by an admirer of Stalin. Maybe the statement they were expecting from Karen was, “O magisterial budgetness, I humbly beseech thee with my pitiful confession of ultimate guilt, for the Trust is truly divine and therefore can not be doubted in its holy bed-cutting glory”.
And the fourth charge was “she allowed the press to print misleading statements about her case”. What a test case that would be if they get away with it. Every time someone has a pack of lies written about them in the press, they’ll be arrested for it. It would be quite a twist for the McCanns – the Daily Express headline would be, “Yesterday we said they were guilty. Today they’re to be charged with allowing us to lie that they’re guilty. Have they NO shame?”
Everyone who’s been released from prison when it’s turned out they were innocent would be re-tried, with the judge concluding that “if the accused had committed the murder for which he was wrongly convicted, that would have been bad enough. But by being innocent of the charges, it means the press reports claiming he was guilty were misleading, so he caused poor Mr Murdoch to print misleading statements saying he was guilty. Furthermore, the accused also told other people he was innocent, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, once he was in jail, he told people he’d been sent to jail”.
The people of Manchester don’t appear to have followed this logic, which is why the 180 staff of the Trust have gone on strike to demand Karen’s reinstatement, and the campaign to support them (at Manchester Community and Mental Health UNISON, Chorlton House, Manchester Road, Manchester) is growing. Maybe that’s because the sacking seems like an attempt to intimidate all health workers against speaking about budget cuts. Or maybe because the Manchester Mental Health Trust is officially rated 173rd out of 175 in the country, which is terrifying. Because it means somewhere there’s two other Trusts even worse than the one run by these idiots.