The two Experts by Experience who are no longer involved in the Pathfinder Project have accused the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) of forcing them to “choose between the community and the Trust”.

Caroline Wheeler and Diane Little were given the role by the WHSCT as two of seven Expert by Experiences, chosen from the public, who were to be involved in the Pathfinder Project.

The two women will be part of a number of groups who are holding a public meeting opposing the current Pathfinder project being undertaken by the WHSCT.

The meeting will take place on Thursday, May 30 at 8pm in Fermanagh House.

Pathfinder was launched last July by the WHSCT with the remit of finding a better way of delivering health services to the people of Fermanagh and West Tyrone.

However, Ms Wheeler and Ms Little have told The Impartial Reporter that crucial documents were only provided to them by the Trust on the same day they were asked to sign what they say amounts to a “gagging order”.

One of these documents, which was written in October 2018 was a “Project Initiation Document”. The document runs to 22 pages and states that its purpose is to define the Pathfinder project.

Both Ms Wheeler and Ms Little have said that they felt they needed more time to read this document and consider it before signing up to the Pathfinder process.  

The Impartial Reporter submitted a number of questions to the WHSCT and in response it defended its position.

“The Pathfinder Initiation Document was given to all the Experts by Experience for the first time at the 8 May Meeting. This was only the second meeting of the EBE group, following an initial “meet and greet” with the group following their appointment on Tuesday 26 March 2019.

"The work is really getting underway from now on the project as the Pathfinder moves from Talk to Action," said a spokesperson. 

Ms Wheeler sees this as a fundamental flaw in the entire Pathfinder Process, explaining that the Experts by Experience should have been involved from the very beginning.

“The Trust don’t want true involvement as they actually don’t know what true involvement is. To bring people in who have never even read the policies and documents relating to the process and then ask them to sign is not true involvement. The Experts by Experience, who represent the public, should have been involved from day one to help frame the entire process. That is true co-production.”

The other document in dispute is an Involvement Agreement that all the Experts by Experience were asked to sign. In extracts seen by this newspaper the Agreement states that information revealed to the Experts by Experience “as part of their role should be treated as confidential and not shared” and that they should "comply with all relevant organisation policies in relation to the use of information associated with my role and in particular with reference to the personal use of social media".

With respect to the Involvement Agreemt the Trust have said that time was given to all the Expert by Experience to make amendments: “The draft Involvement Agreement document, as approved by the Personal and Public Involvement (PPI) Forum and PHA, was given to all Experts By Experience (EBE) at the EBE meeting on 15 April 2019.”

The Trust goes on to state: “The seven appointed Experts by Experience were requested to send back any proposed changes/amendments to the draft document and within 10 days (25 April 2019). Any comments/suggested amendments were then incorporated into a final version of the Involvement Agreement at the Expert by Experience meeting on 8 May 2019.”

However, Ms Little says she had fundamental problems with signing the agreement: “The final version of any document, the one you are being asked to sign, is the one you need the time to consider, get advice on and consult with those who asked you to represent them on".

“I explained I needed to show it to my community who asked me to apply for the position on their behalf, as it would mean I could not tell them what was happening. I could not be open and transparent.

"I also wanted to ask advice on it as I wanted to know what would happen if I broke the agreement by telling my community something the Trust did not want me to tell them. They refused to allow me time to consider, consult, or get advice," she said. 

Ms Little added: “It forced us to choose between the community and the Trust who wanted to use us for promotion and tick boxes for PPI. If we chose the Trust we could not represent the community - we cannot be working in co-production for our community and not be able to tell them what is going on. This was unreasonable. The Law Centre in Belfast who advised us, said not to sign it said it was unreasonable.”

The other five Expert by Experience did sign the document with the Trust stating: “In the principles of respect and integrity for the process, all other five Experts by Experience, as agreed and communicated with them in the build-up to May 8 meeting, adhered to the deadlines provided.”