PHSO Seminar; we talked, they listened, what next?

As members of the Pressure Group prepared for the seminar the news broke of the devastating case of the Morrish family and their scathing opinion of the PHSO investigation process.  It was all over breakfast t.v. and then again on radio 4 when John Humphrys put some rather probing questions to Dame Julie Mellor. (  starts @ 2.48) So this was the backdrop to our seminar and possibly the reason for the last minute shift away from Millbank Tower to the more obscure territory of EC1.

I must say from the outset that we were listened to and we were heard. 

IFF, the customer survey people ran the meeting and were flexible and accommodating.  Although we could have used more time, we were not rushed and all participants felt valued.  We split into two groups and the young man from IFF who led our table started off with the cheery smile of a children’s t.v. presenter.  As the stories unfolded his head sunk gradually lower and his smile waned.  Could this all be true?  Are people really treated with such contempt for the truth?  Although each of our stories are unique, they followed a familiar pattern of denial of the evidence, flawed decision making, failure to answer difficult questions and an inability to put the record straight.  The raw pain of those re-lived experiences soon surfaced through the everyday veneer; voices struggled to be heard through the clog of emotion which caught in the throat and tears were openly shed.

Unresolved injustice is an open wound.  

When the two groups gathered again to review the key themes another young chap from IFF read out a catalogue of poor complaint handling which could rival Schindler’s list.

  • System favours organisations
  • Evidence from public bodies taken at face value
  • No opportunity for redress, can’t put things right
  • Not enough cases get through
  • Systems favours professionals
  • Too much emphases on small details and not the big picture.
  • No advocacy for complainants
  • Not a clear process of how cases are assessed.
  • Lacks independence and objectivity.
  • Anonymous clinical advisors
  • Lack of independent clinical advice
  • Cover up of state fraud or corruption
  • Concerns on time lines – slow process
  • Lack of openness and transparency
  • Lack of  alignment to principles of care
  • Lack of accountability

IFF now compile a report to which we will all have access, then we have called for a follow up meeting to discuss the way forward.  This seminar marks the beginning of our journey with PHSO and not the end.  Despite our concerns that we didn’t say just what we meant to or in the way that we intended;  the impact of so much human pain in one room was inescapable.  As one PHSO employee said as we waited for the lift together after the meeting,

‘It’s different when you see the people’.


Can Oliver Letwin redeem himself as the Complainers’ Champion?

Oliver Letwin behind barsIt would be easy to believe that Oliver Letwin did not so much grasp the mantle of Complainers’ Champion as have it thrust upon him in much the same way that disgraced Stalinist were encouraged to vacation in Siberia.  After all it’s not every politician who wants to be recognised as Minister for Complaints.

The truth is that Mr. Letwin has time on his hands since being replaced as Cameron’s policy advisor in April 2013, by Jo Johnson, brother of Boris, the British Kennedys.    It was thought that Mr. Letwin was too distant from the concerns of ordinary voters to write the next Conservative manifesto.  Educated at Eton and Cambridge, before becoming an academic, Mr. Letwin had little chance to develop an understanding of the lives of ordinary voters.  This may be the reason why, in July 2011 he called for public sector workers to be in fear of losing their jobs in an effort to improve productivity.  Fear of the Gulag could also have done the trick, but I dare say that even Mr. Letwin realised that this would be a step too far.

It is well known that Oliver Letwin is in favour of savage cuts to public services, which he sees as bureaucratic and inefficient.  In 2001, in the run up to the general election, he stated that the Tories would slash taxes by £20bn, putting money back into the pockets of the taxpayer whilst simultaneously devastating public services reliant on taxpayer funds.  It did not come to fruition at that time, but with austerity came the opportunity to legitimately slash public spending, without the subsequent tax rebates as I recall.

With cuts to public services there will inevitably be more complaints.  Front-line staff, over run by an impossible workload will inevitably make mistakes.  So is Oliver Letwin the right person to be overseeing a complete overhaul of the complaint process and the role of public sector Ombudsmen?    Having created the chaos which caused the complaints the aim would surely be to provide a watertight system which allows for efficient complaint disposal without leakage and scandal.  Job done.

Perhaps the idea is to privatise all public services putting them beyond the reach of freedom of information requests and data release, making the task of white-washing complaints a whole lot easier. In 2004 Mr. Letwin stated that the NHS will cease to exist after five years of Tory rule.  The big sell off has certainly begun, but five years was a tad optimistic for such a mammoth organisation to be turned piecemeal into profitable private companies.

But let us not dwell on the negative.  Mr. Letwin has the opportunity as Complainants’ Champion to become a national hero.  He has already agreed to meet with a coalition of campaign groups on 24th July to discuss the forthcoming inquiry.  Representatives from the PHSO Pressure Group, National Health Action Party and LGO Ombudsman Watch will meet with Mr. Letwin at Westminster to share their ‘gold dust’ knowledge of issues and solutions.  Complainants are primary stakeholders in the discussion process and intend to contribute throughout, in order to guide Mr. Letwin and the Cabinet Office in making the right choices.  The result could be legislation which actually provides protection for the citizen from the abuse of power.  Public sector Ombudsmen who actually believe that complainants are honest with valid concerns.  An end to bias, corruption and arrogant disregard for the public.  So, Mr. Letwin, are you able to deliver?