On 7th October three members of the PHSO Pressure Group paid to attend an NHS Complaints Conference called ‘Westminster Briefing’. westminster-briefing.Agenda It was to be a day of presentation and discussion centred around the Francis Report’s 290 recommendations for improvement. The fact that there so many recommendations shows the degree of change required.
Unfortunately, there was not as much opportunity for debate as they hoped and it was clear from the morning session that the speakers were not really primed to answer questions; especially hard hitting ones from people who had first hand experience of using the complaint process.
There was a feeling among the Group that the morning speakers were simply ‘going through the motions’ and this was reciprocated from the attending delegates (mostly complaint managers) who asked very few questions. A notable exception were two representatives from Moorfields Eye Hospital who asked particularly relevant questions and showed a keen interest in the speakers presentations. Fiona from the Pressure Group wrote to congratulate them afterwards, on having two representatives in the room who engaged in a way that presented Moorfields as a centre who genuinely cared about patient’s safety and rights. So we ‘complainants’ do more than just complain.
John Dale, a consultant and organiser of the National NHS Complaints Managers Group chaired the meeting. Among the morning speakers were Paul Durham speaking on behalf of CQC and Sally Sykes who represented PHSO. Both of these speakers talked about how their organisations were listening to complainants and taking change on-board, but it all sounded like jam tomorrow for members of the Pressure Group. Interestingly, this slide from Sally Sykes presentation shows in the ‘third phase’ key issues which are presently under consultation with the Cabinet Office and PASC. These changes require new legislation, so are PHSO jumping the gun or is this a done deal?
Roan Dyson spoke about the services offered by POhWER, who help complainants ‘get their voice heard’. Unfortunately, they don’t take on case work, so their support is limited. The most revealing fact to emerge from the morning session was that there were 88 different public bodies dealing with NHS complaints. No wonder we are all confused!
Then in the afternoon, things picked up when Dr Kim Holt (Chair and Founder of Patients First) the whistleblower on the Baby P case, fully engaged the audience as she talked about the dreadful plights of some of the whistleblowers she has worked with since starting her campaign for a full public inquiry four years ago. You can see her website here: www.gov.uk/whistleblowing/overview
She explained that bullying is used to stop the whistleblowers and instead of the concern being investigated, the individual who raises the concern is investigated. Bullying is mainly in the form of verbal abuse and suggestions that the whistleblower is mentally deranged. This will invariably lead to loss of career and stress related health problems for those brave enough to speak out. Dr. Holt mentioned a paediatric surgeon who after raising concerns, was taken to court by the PDSA and is now no longer working. There was also mention of another bullying case where someone literally had their head banged on a table. Dr. Holt said it was all down to poor clinical leadership and is calling for management to take proactive steps to deal with issues raised instead of adopting a defensive stance when things go wrong.
(You can see the slides to her presentation, along with those of the others speakers, by following the link at the end of this article.)
The next speaker was Kim Morley (Sapphire Specialist Epilepsy Nurse, Solent NHS Trust) who also had first hand experience of what it was like to be the victim of poor care. She described how poor care made a person feel invisible, uncared for and cast adrift. She also pointed out that when patients complain the people who caused the harm carry out the investigation and that as long as this continues there will be no justice. Ms. Morley also mentioned a lack of diagnosis, which then denies the patient the treatment they require. No diagnosis or strategic misdiagnosis has featured in cases within the Pressure Group causing unnecessary suffering for many years as people try to discover the real reason for their illness.
The last speaker was Ruth Evans (Patient Experience Network) – she started by asking the direct question ‘What should a complaints system be like?’ Simple. And ‘What does someone want when they complain?’ They want things put right. She said Richard Branson’s organisation has a positive attitude to feedback/complaints, because it improves things; another positive speaker. It is clearly the case that when someone makes an initial complaint they want a very simple response. They want acknowledgement, an apology and some action taken to put things right. It is the long fight for justice, when public bodies delay, deny and defend, which leads to permanent bitterness and litigation.
Dr. Holt won the prize from our group members though they all commented on how refreshing the afternoon speakers were and the real insight they shared of the painful journey one takes as either a whistleblower or NHS complainant.
On that note you may wish to listen to David Drew speaking on Radio 4’s Midweek about his horrendous nightmare following his decision to blow the whistle regarding concerns for patient safety at Walsall Manor Hospital, where he worked as Head of the Paediatric department .bbc.co.uk/programmes If you want to cut to the chase his part starts at 11.41. He speaks of the culture of closed groups and once more makes the point that the perpetrators are the very same people who investigate the complaint. This is unacceptable. You can get his book, ‘Little stories of life and death’ here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Stories-Life-Death-NHSwhistleblowr/dp/1783065230/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414175857&sr=1-1&keywords=david+drew
We have seen it in Mid. Staffordshire, Rotherham and of course in the Saville affair. When those in authority fail to listen and respond appropriately to complaints then nothing is done to halt the horror and many more suffer as a consequence. It is not good enough for those who failed to say, ‘lessons have been learnt’ for these are hollow words, too easily spoken. The fact that Dr. Kim Holt and Dr. David Drew are having such a tough fight to obtain a public inquiry into whistleblowing, demonstrates a government who is unwilling to learn from these many failures.