Sunday, 25 November 2007

Karen Reissmann, Psychiatric nurse sacked for speaking out

Below is the report of yesterday's Manchester demonstration in defence
of sacked UNISON steward, Karen Reissmann. The issues there are huge
with these loathsome employers even threatening to report striking
nurses to their professional registration body, the NMC.

It was great to see Lillian Macer, Chair of UNISON's Health Group Exec
speaking out with UNISON assistant general secretary Bob Abberley.

UNISON's Health Service Group exec is calling for branches to make the
5th of December a day of solidarity with Karen - with stewards and
activists encouraged to organise a lunchtime protest (perhaps at the
hospital gates) with staff wearing gags and inviting the local media
along to protest the attempt to silence a union rep for spaking our
against service cuts.

Please have a look at these pictures and the report below.

Regards, Mark Ladbrooke
Health Group Exec member SE Region

Reissman: What was said at the rally
nicola dowling

HERE'S a selection the messages of support sent to Karen Reissmann as
hundreds of people marched in support of the sacked mental health

Star of Shameless Chris Bisson read this letter of support from the
show's writer Paul Abbott who could not attend the rally because he
was in America on business.

He said: "Dear Karen,

So sorry I can't be with you at the rally in your support, but sadly,
I'm committed to appointments abroad.

"I hope you already know how much admiration I have for you and your
colleagues now striking in defence of your outspoken feelings about
the alarming state of mental health services in Manchester, which for
years we all know, were woefully under-funded in the first place -
never mind the sheer madness of cutbacks.

"They could wave as many spreadsheets as they want to justify the
economics of this but what's betting the number-crunching won't
include the damage to Britain's economy from the needless suffering of
undiagnosed mental illness in our citizens, which, if treated earlier,
and professionally can prevent the pointlessly heartbreaking
destruction of people and their families.

"Prescription chargers for anti depressants alone cost £36 million a
year. Add to this the national loss of work hours, and the vast
expenditure on long-term disability from welfare support and tell me
there's a single atom of sense in their arithmetic to justify the
economics of this. There isn't. Never could be.

"At 15 I was sectioned for my own protection following a suicide
attempt. Back then, I experienced the privilege of help and support
from nurses among other mental health practitioners to see me
patiently through that crisis. Without them, I wouldn't be alive

"The thought of ever going back to that jet-black underworld still
haunts me constantly. But if I had no choice, surely in all decency,
I'd deserve more specialist nurses like Karen Reissmann to help me
break my fall, not half the number doing their work on a fraction of
the funding spent 30 years ago.

"We pay the health trust salaries, we, the shareholders. In effect we
subsidise their families. Can we get a pledge that Sheila Foley and
her teams at Manchester Mental Health Trust will be held accountable
for the catastrophic consequences of their negligence?

"Using crass free-market economics on public funded mental health
services, is honestly far more deluded than I was the day I was
sectioned. If Manchester Mental Health Trust aren't up to basic adding
and subtracting, it's time we had their jobs not Karen Reissmann's."

Karen's mum Hella Reissmann, 80, was in tears during the speeches
after the rally, saying she was overcome with pride for her daughter
and the strength of support for her.

The retired general nurse said: "I came from York and was nervous
about speaking because I had a stroke recently, but I just had to be
here. I am very emotional about all of this. She did it for the
patients. On the same day my daughter got the discipline letter she
got another one offering her promotion, they were signed by the same
person. It is unbelievable."

Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd said: "Karen is my constituent, but I
am not here in that capacity. I am here because there is a basic trade
union principle here. That principle is the right for an active trade
union to speak out about what's happening in a public service that we,
everyone, of us owns and is accountable to every one of us here
because it is the service which in the end we all depend on.

"As an MP, I have dealt with some of Karen's patients over the years
and I know how much people value and need the service of the Mental
Health Trust.

He referred to the fact that Ms Reissmann was offered promotion on the
same day she was sacked. He said he hoped Karen's appeal would be
successful so that she and her colleagues could go back to work.

Manchester Lawyer Robert Lizar said: "I, in my work, advise people
about their rights under the Mental Health Act. I come into contact
with people in the hospitals covered by Karen. What's clear is that
Karen was completely right to speak out about those services and their

"The journalistic cliché is that this is a Cinderella service which
employs people who are dedicated and hardworking, but is grossly

"Karen is not a Cinderella though because she just didn't sit there
passively waiting for the Fairy God Mother or Prince Charming to bring
some funding, she spoke out in a way we would all want to hear.

"Her reward for speaking out was that she was sacked. That, to me, is
absolutely outrageous. As a lawyer looking at the charges brought
against her, they look like something from Alice in Wonderland or
George Orwell.

"I wasn't aware that it was an offence to speak out, to tell people
she had been suspended and assert that she was innocent. She was
charged with asserting her innocence! I can't take that in.

"The charges centre on her going to the press. There are major
organisations which do include it in their contract that employees
don't talk to the press and disclose material that could be damaging
to the company such as Coca-Cola and Astra Zeneca, organisations that
have major secrets they have to protect. What's the secret this
hospital trust are trying to protect here?

"Their secret is that they are making cuts not expanding a service
that desperately needs more funding. There can never be any
justification for that kind of approach. There can be no excuse
because the trust are managing this service on our behalf, this is a
public service. We need to hear this debate."

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