Power, irony and the ‘sorry’ ship…

‘Sorry’ or an absence of sorry has been a consistent feature of the last few years. We’ve collected a right old rag bag of non-apologies including ‘I’m sorry for any distress you may have felt…’ ‘Please accept my condolences for your loss‘ and ‘I’m sorry if [fill in whatever here]. Last week Valerie Murphy finally ‘found remorse’ and produced an apology for the MPTS panel.

The Murpy effect

At LB’s inquest, one of the barristers, Mr Fortune, offered Murphy the opportunity to say sorry to us when she was giving evidence. An eminently sensible and kind man, he’d obviously helped his client Winnie Betsva come to the decision to do so when she earlier gave evidence. Winnie said sorry. Clearly and unambiguously. Murphy’s non-response lead Fortune to dramatically say “I specifically did not ask we, I addressed the question to you. Dr Murphy please answer.” After further procrastination she stated “It was the right decision. I don’t believe there were failings”. On the inquest recording you can hear the courtroom door slam as I walked out. [I didn’t slam it, it closes loudly.]

Fast forward to yesterday and an email from the GMC. Murphy’s solicitor said she wants to write to us and are we willing to allow the GMC to pass on our home address.

When the ‘sorry’ ship has sailed…

There comes a time when the space to say sorry expires. How long that window remains open will vary but given we went into the MPTS tribunal last August fully expecting and prepared to accept an apology from Murphy four years after LB died it lasts some time.

That ship has sailed now. It sailed for me when instead of saying sorry she allowed her barrister to unnecessarily cross-examine me for nearly two hours.

I had to leave that room too when he told me she was upset. For a brief break before returning to more of the same. While Murphy sat next to him. Feet away.

I’d hazard a guess that Murphy wants to apologise to us now because this absence is repeatedly referred to in the sanction decision. The focus of the MPTS process is on finding demonstrations of insight and remorse by the doctor and the panel helpfully suggest what she might produce before the hearing next year. Including

A reflective account addressing what you have learned and done in respect of the Tribunal’s findings of facts, impairment and sanction demonstrating your level of insight;

[As a bit of an aside, in my thoughts about this I had a sad chuckle earlier remembering LB’s approach to unwanted stuff like hex bugs, broken watches, the egg of trust. He just binned em. Without hesitation.]

The panel should have drawn a dotted line under a potential apology at this stage. It really doesn’t take much insight or reflection to realise that it is probably too late. There’s heavy irony here that the panel are prepared to drag an apology out of Murphy in pursuit of evidence of insight without themselves showing any insight or reflection of the continuing brutality of the process for us. Murphy, likewise, is demonstrating no insight into her actions if she’s prepared to suddenly fashion an apology after everything she’s done and hasn’t done.

Final thoughts

Power is, as always, at the heart of this sorry business. The power to withhold a genuine sorry or to give a half baked non-apology. The power to choose to send ‘the sorry’ a circuitous route to the recipient or simply to others. The power to give a medic – who catastrophically failed a patient by not providing the most basic of basic medical care – chance after chance to buck her ideas up. The erasure of any consideration of the impact of the whole process – including actions taken and decisions made – on the family and wider.

This is an extract from one of the responses sent to the Professional Standards Association expressing concerns about the panel sanction decision.

The Equality Act requires public sector agencies to make reasonable adjustments such that the service offers a similar standard to groups such as disabled people to that experienced by other people. Using learning difficulties as a mitigating factor points in a direction contrary to the Equality Act, seeming to accept that standards are lower for medical professionals working with people with learning disabilities.

I can’t help thinking the MPTS process has descended into some kind of farce. Underpinned by an inability to see LB as a person, demonstrated by using ‘learning difficulties as a mitigating factor’.  It’s the only way I can make any (non)sense of it.

[As a postscript, as I’m struggling to make sense of this, if anyone has any different thoughts please chip in below.]

5 thoughts on “Power, irony and the ‘sorry’ ship…

  1. Can’t help feeling the above from VM is a suspiciously non-specific apology, It’s all abstractions: ‘sorry for my failings’, not, ‘sorry I didn’t do a proper history, Or diagnosis. Or notes. Or… etc. etc. etc.’ and ‘my role in Pt. A’s death’; no particulars of what she didn’t do that she should have, and did that she ought not to have done. As has been highlighted at various times and by various people in #JusticeforLB, abstractions are a mechanism for distancing, diminishing and depersonalising the reality and awfulness of people’s experiences.

    Like you, I feel this approach from VM is a reactive performance, aimed at mechanically ‘fulfilling’ the MPTS criteria; not something that is in any way genuine or heartfelt. If she felt bad about treating you so dreadfully last August, she could have apologised sooner. That she saved her ‘sorries’ for a rote, remote admission at the Tribunal tells anybody with a spark of commonsense, all they need to know. To be asking to apologise to you personally now is, frankly, taking the mickey.

    You may not be a psychiatrist, Sara, but you give every appearance of having a far better understanding of VM’s psychology than she does of yours (and indeed, a better understanding of her psychology than she has herself).

    I wouldn’t accept this too-late sham of an apology either.

  2. the power of power. power not available to the fragile, the bereaved. power not available to elevate weakness to strength with compassion and truth. this was an abuse of power.

  3. Sara – there is still a mystery over Sloven’s letter to Murphy, produced at the Tribunal in mitigation. Sloven is refusing to publish it – by evasion. I asked for disclosure – no specific Act but Sloven misused the Data Protection Act 1998 to avoid disclosure. It would be good if the GMC asked Murphy for her consent to disclose it: if she is truly remorseful, she will not hesitate to give consent.
    If you have her solicitor’s name (or even that of the firm) I will do it myself.

    I spent most of last week upset by the treatment of a very young and inexperienced support worker (6 weeks into the job), who was vilified and ‘hung out to dry’ at an Inquest – with no admission of supervisory or systemic failings.

    Sloven gave her no legal or other support. Although the Coroner gave her mother an opportunity to question witnesses, the setting was intimidating and she probably didn’t know what to ask anyway – and Sloven’s Interim Medical Director, Dr Constantine (any ideas for nicknames Sara?) sat right behind Sloven’s ‘Ice Maiden’ [Counsel] and did nothing to stop her crushing the poor lass.

    I identified 34 ‘learning opportunities’ during one day at the Inquest and submitted an open question to this week’s Board in advance asking what they had learnt – Constantine mumbled away for about 2 minutes. I left my list on the table – one for each Board Member – guess what? Only one Director bothered to pick it up – surprise, surprise he is the only one who is not an NHS-lifer and told me later he had picked up the whole pile and would ensure that everyone got a copy.

    So Sloven treats junior staff just like they treated you Sara! They were more concerned about where I had parked my car (not in a marked space but not on a double yellow line or the grass – unlike many staff who regularly park in such areas. More on my blog later.

    That’s enough [Ed] – or this comment will be longer than Sara’s comments.

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