Dambusters and the damned

I was getting on with responding to reviewers comments for a funding application earlier when the postie arrived. Bringing a letter from the (actual as opposed to acting) Chief Exec of Southern Health.  This included an invitation to meet with her to discuss what’s happened. Ok. We’ll think about this.

The rest of the letter was a lesson in how not to write an ‘apology’ letter. There’s a PhD to be done in a discourse analysis of the content of NHS fake apology letters if it hasn’t been done already.

Here’s a whizzle through it, with key tips in bold…

An obvious starting point and easy win is to (1) get the person’s name right. (For the record, I ain’t, and never have been, ‘Mrs Ryan’).

(2) ditch the fake apologies. Today’s ‘apology’ (letterofcondolence/version3/additionaladjectives) is a variation on the Acting Chief’s offering I quoted in Being open and saying sorry.

May I begin this letter by offering my personal and sincere condolences on the death of your son, LB. I acknowledge this must be an incredibly sad and difficult time for you and your family.

In addition to the crapness of the meaningless (non) apology, I feel a bit uncomfortable having someone ‘acknowledge’ what a sad and difficult time we’re having in this way. Particularly when the organisation they lead has actively contributed to our sadness and distress. (3) Ditch the platitudes. 

But then there’s quite a lot to feel uncomfortable about in this letter. Take the following section;

“I am aware my colleagues have endeavoured  to assure you that the investigation will be thorough and transparent, and the findings will be openly shared with you [cue a blast of Dambuster music]. I understand you remain reticent (?) about whether this will in fact materialise [cue a blast of Paranoid Android].”

We’re positioned as a force of negativity and the staff, heroic in their battle to do good. Breathtaking spin. Given the recent surprise expressed by the Chief Exec over the findings of the CQC inspection of the unit, you’d think she’d task herself with better information gathering. (4) Get your facts right.  It’s evident that the collective ‘endeavour’ of our solicitor, family, friends, colleagues and wider social media support played a significant part in the appointment of an external reviewer. (5) Ditch the spin. And since this reviewer was appointed, we’ve had no concerns whatsoever about the materialisation of a thorough and transparent investigation. Disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

And finally (and in no particular order) it’s probably best to remain mindful of the context and recipient when writing these apology letters. You don’t need to state you’ve “returned to the Trust from a period of maternity leave” in a letter to a bereaved mother (6) avoid insensitivity. I know. Small things that are kind of obvious but clearly need highlighting.

Now I need to get back to the reviewers comments. Later than I planned.

6 thoughts on “Dambusters and the damned

  1. You almost couldn’t make it up….especially the maternity leave comment. I used to work for someone whose (from my perspective insincere) acknowledgements of ‘it must be very difficult with your father being terminally ill’ were only ever really experienced like another burden I had to carry/apologise for/work extra hard to cancel out.

    In a generous mood I’d say people lack the words, don’t know better, especially once legal are editing things that get put on paper – but then why bother? Again I’m left in admiration at your ability to document, comment, try to make sense of this mess. Thank you.

    • Thanks. Not sure I’m making much sense of it. I don’t think there is any really. But I’ll plod on, recording and reflecting. And hope/know that the baton will be taken up as and when/if necessary.

  2. It is breathtaking spin. It reminds me of some of my dealings with the Children’s Disability Service when my son was alive. A sort of corporate gaslighting…’we have been reasonable and calm and you are a bit mad and confused’. Whatever you say, they twist it a little. Keep strong Sara

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