Can a leopard change its spots?

Elizabeth and Jill attended the AvMA conference in Manchester on Tuesday on behalf of phsothefacts expecting to see Dame Julie Mellor,  give a progress report on improvements in complaint handling from PHSO.  Without warning or explanation she was replaced by Sally Sykes.  You can read their full report below.   Let us hope that Dame Julie still has the Health chat with Roy Lilley pencilled into her diary at the Kings Fund on 15th April as we have booked four front row seats.

sally sykes

Sally Sykes – PHSO

The Action against Medical Accidents Conference:

NHS Complaints – Putting Recommendations into Action.

24th March 2015, Manchester Piccadilly.

 Attended for PHSO the Facts by Jill Mizen and Elizabeth Gould

CAN A LEOPARD CHANGE ITS SPOTS?

 

When Sally Sykes Executive Director of External Affairs and Strategy at the PHSO sauntered in to the AvMA Conference in Manchester she was wearing a leopard-print coat.

Fitting attire for a representative of an organization that, despite its refrain of “Believe us, we’re changing for the better”, hasn’t changed at all. If you’ve ever engaged with the PHSO the tone would’ve been familiar.  Patronizing, disingenuous and mendacious; the nonsense dished up might have been last year’s leftovers.

The programme of the AvMA Conference had certainly changed. Dame Julie Mellor who had been billed to speak first was nowhere to be seen with no reason given. The running order had also changed as Ms Sykes arrived late and Chris Bostock, Complaints Policy Lead at the Department of Health stepped into the breach as the first speaker. He explained that the imminent Election means that discussion of the future has to be put on hold. His presentation therefore focussed on what had been achieved in NHS culture change since the Francis Inquiry.

The very good news for us is that Mr Bostock has invited PHSO the Facts to meet with him once the new administration has settled in – perhaps a month after the Election. Whilst his focus is policy relating to NHS complaints, we left him in no doubt that we considered the PHSO as not fit for purpose.

Next up Ms Sykes herself and all the usual platitudes. You’ll be pleased to know that:

“We are changing, and are interested in and listening to feedback”

“We want complaints to make a difference and help to improve public services for everyone” 

“We are leading improvements to the complaints handling system”.

Ms Sykes last presentation slide read “Thank you for listening” and “Any Questions?”  We held back.  Why provide a platform for Ms Sykes to deliver more PHSO PR spin?

The rest of the Programme involved speakers from the NHS and the private and the voluntary sector. All the presentations were thoughtful and interesting.

The Head of Complaints, PALS and Legal Services at Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, John Culshaw, described a complaints management system that, if it delivers what it claims, is a model of good practice. If there is anyone out there who currently has a complaint being handled by that Trust it would be good to hear if their practice does what it says on the tin.

The Chief Executive of Patient Opinion, James Munro, described the power of social media in bringing patients and providers together to share and act on patient feedback. If 104 year old Ivy Bean could use Twitter to compliment the staff in her Care Home, then none of us can plead that the technology is beyond us. But as Dr Munro recognized such communications are not a substitute for a formal complaints system; they are a complement.

We heard from a Patient Service and Experience Lead in an NHS Commissioning Support Unit, and speakers from the Care Quality Commission, the Patients Association, Verita Consultancy, and the AvMA.

Finally we heard from Julie Bailey founder of Cure the NHS who successfully campaigned for a Public Inquiry into the failings at Mid Staffs. Calm and dignified, her moving presentation documented “The Torture of the NHS Complaints procedure”.

It is difficult to believe that someone could have been so personally vilified in bringing the Mid Staffs failings to the public attention. Difficult to believe unless, like many of us in PHSO the Facts, you too have met walls of denial, defensiveness and delay; you too have been smeared; and you too have been accused of being vexatious, obsessive and intransigent.  We felt it was a privilege and an inspiration to hear Julie Bailey speak.

Like us Julie said that she was unconvinced that the PHSO were changing. And where was Ms Sykes to hear this? Long gone, back to London no doubt for more radio interviews, more gushing assurances about the PHSO as a listening organization. They may be listening but they are certainly not hearing us.

And as for the leopard and its spots?

Well the spots are essential to camouflage a stalking leopard. That’s not something that’s changing anytime soon.…and neither is the PHSO.

Pressure Group members attend NHS Complaints Conference.

Westminster Briefing Group (1) 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? SALLY SYKES PHSO SLIDE

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!

Kim HoltThen 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.

head up bum Link to slideshows from the day:  https://dub114.mail.live.com/mail/ViewOfficePreview.aspx?messageid=mg9mujqpNa5BG05AAiZMHWHA2&folderid=flinbox&attindex=0&cp=-1&attdepth=0&n=99258138