Long lines…

I’ve been off work since November with ‘mixed depression and anxiety complicated by grief and trauma’. The thoughtful and consistent support I’ve received has involved focusing on doing very little in order to regroup and recover before the General Medical Council (GMC) decision on the fitness to practice of LB’s responsible clinician (Feb) and the judgement in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust (March). 

Doing very little has been a revelation. After early days of intense agitation and wondering ‘What the actual fuck…?’ I’m getting good at it. I can wash a pan or sort out a small pile of crap (untouched since 2013) with unprecedented attention and a (non) speed that would beat the slowest of slow lorises. Disrupted/nightmare-filled sleep is more manageable when you can decant from bed to settee with a blanket during the daytime. Reducing panic attacks to moments of breathlessness/fear is something else.

I’m shocked now that Rich and I returned to work so soon after LB’s death in 2013 (with no pressure from either of our employers). But of course back in the day we had no idea of what lay ahead. 

“Who supported you after LB’s death?” asked the mental health team a few weeks ago.

Supported us? In the wake of LB’s sudden, brutal, unexpected and utterly preventable death? Like a police liaison officer? Ah. No. LB died in the NHS. There’s none of that stuff. Respond offered us telephone counselling via social media. 

We didn’t know…

I think we probably thought at the time that work would be a distraction from intense pain while the wheels of justice and accountability turned in the background. With the odd nudge from our newly appointed legal representatives.

We returned to work in the early days of the dirty tricks game the Trust and local authority were playing. All we knew at the time was that the Trust pegged LB’s death a ‘natural cause’ death in online board papers in late August. We didn’t know about the behind scenes activity; the briefings and secret reviews; the twists and turns, lies and obstruction. We didn’t know these processes would drag on for years or how much of an enormous collective effort would be necessary to gain accountability.  

This was and is our ordinary. In the extraordinary space of public sector related preventable death.

As it is for so many other families. Many of whom have endured more than the 4.5 years we have, while others regularly join this liminal space. There’s little change. There’s little support for young people who struggle and teeter on the brink of admission to inappropriate settings while their loved ones do everything they humanly can to pick their way through the paucity of appropriate care. It simply ain’t good enough.

A new National Director…

Ray James, the newly appointed NHS England National Director for Learning Disability tweeted earlier today.

James is, of course, one in a long line of people charged with the task of reducing the scandalous number of people incarcerated in assessment and treatment units. We’ve witnessed a series of awkward and sometimes embarrassing failures in trying to do this, not least the Winterbourne View Joint Improvement Programme/Concordat and Stephen Bubb’s big breakfast. I don’t doubt James’ determination and commitment to the task he faces. What is concerning is the disappearing of everything that came before. A snapping of lines.

Another day, another face, another resolution. While people continue to live heartrendingly miserable existences.

No #Learningfromdeaths

Rich was appointed as one of two family representatives on NHS England’s Programme Board last summer for the Learning from Deaths programme (work commissioned as an outcome of the Mazars review). He received an email from a family advocate who said that families would be reassured by his involvement in the work. The first event he attended was a two day gig at the Oval in November. He walked out after two hours. The meeting opened with two apologies from NHS England – not for the fact that 75 bereaved families had to be in the room in the first place – but that no work had been done for last ten months and for the shoddy organisation of the original meeting. As the meeting unfolded, Rich felt he could not validate the process.

In December a further event was held in London with Jeremy Hunt and the great and the good. The unofficial erasure of any focus on the premature mortality of learning disabled people was completed during this meeting. Two years pretty much to the day from publication of the Mazars review. Hunt ploughing ahead with his misplaced belief that improving the process of investigation for patients more generally would improve the investigation of the deaths of marginalised patients. 

What about the work relating to learning disability related deaths? I and one other family member tweeted during this event.

“Ask NHS Improvement or NHS England” replied the Care Quality Commission. “They’re tasked with taking forward the recommendation relating to learning disabled people.”

We did. Neither responded. 

Certain people don’t count. Or worse.

They never have.

A full circle…

We woke this new year morning to the news that Toby Young has been appointed to ‘help lead’ the Office for Students (OfS). 

There is so much so wrong with his appointment… a quick search on twitter will reveal his appalling views, ill-informed commentary and actions while he tries to (ironically and pointlessly) disinfect his own timeline through a heavy handed programme of deletion. Relevant here is his apparent distaste for disabled children and associated flag waving for ‘progressive eugenics’.  (Improving the ‘genetic stock of the least well off’ in an attempt to improve the overall national stock…) 

Eugenics is, of course, eugenics as @Education720 points out: 

Woolf’s diary entry was written in 1915:

… we met & had to pass a long line of imbeciles. The first was a very tall young man, just queer enough to look at twice, but no more; the second shuffled, & looked aside; and then one realised that everyone in that long line was a miserable ineffective shuffling idiotic creature, with no forehead, or no chin, & an imbecile grin, or a wild suspicious stare.  It was perfectly horrible.  They should certainly be killed.

There are long, long lines that can be traced here. Plentiful dot joining between the desire for the ‘improvement of the British breed’ (Churchill, 1899) and the eugenics movement. The continuously poor treatment, neglect, bullying or abuse of learning disabled people in whatever setting – long stay institutions, the community, inpatient hospitals, home – by a range of individuals and professionals over the last century. And Young’s support for ‘progressive eugenics’.

Complex and complicated strands are interwoven into and between these lines; ignorance, maliciousness, systemic and structural processes, cronyism, fear, power, gender, economics, culture, power, politics, stupidity, greed, elitism, narcissism… the list goes on and on.

‘Progressive eugenics’ is a deeply flawed and harmful ideology that denies any recognition of the humanity, creativity, compassion, love, diversity, joy and brilliance people bring to society. I miss LB with an ache that hasn’t diminished in over four years. My heart contracts and eyes well up in a split second whenever I think about his gentleness, humour, generosity, curiosity and straightforwardness. Contrasting his obvious qualities with the bile that Young (and others like him) spew, with nonsensical reward and little censure, is unspeakably grotesque.

How is it possible that not one person, in a long, long line of influential people who can and should speak up and call this for what it is, ever does?

 

Crown Court

When we were kids, off school with a bug, flu or other illness, we’d snooze in front of the big old (tiny) TV. ‘School programmes’ (shudder) in the morning followed by a less dull but still dull drama (was it a drama? I dunno… maybe it was based on actual cases) called Crown Court at lunchtime.

Crown Court. A kind of ritual endurance, marking the mid point to the crawl to the end of school time and delights like Little House on the Prairie. Time for lunch if not already scoffed. A soft, non medical drug to easily bring on slumber if you felt like shite.

I dug out the theme tune on Youtube earlier. Rich, in another room, unexpectedly shouted “Is that Coronation Street?”

Off sick to the same tune/drama. Capturing the ennui, traffic free streets, all male advocates, a dose of beige and a baby Zoe Wanamaker.

 

On 18 September Sloven pleaded guilty to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution of LB’s death at Banbury Magistrates court. The magistrate referred the ‘case’ to the Crown Court. The next hearing was held in Oxford Crown court on October 13*. The judge then set a date – 27 November – to decide a sentencing date. [I know.]

A second HSE prosecution for the death of Teresa Colvin was raised during this hearing. Teresa died a year before LB. Months after Mike Holder, a health and safety expert, meticulously documented patient safety risks which Katrina Percy and the Sloven board ignored.

[Edward Hartley, in turn, died months after LB’s death flagged up issues around epilepsy training and understanding, risk assessment and observation levels. Edward’s death, like so many others, has yet to edge or inch towards proper scrutiny and answers.]

On 20 November the HSE prosecution relating to Teresa Colvin’s death was held at the Oxford Magistrates court. [Sorry. It’s complicated].

Tomorrow (Monday) a hearing at Oxford Crown Court will pin down the timetable for the sentencing date.

The judge will be asked to sentence both HSE prosecutions together. Or formally agree to do so.

This is for various reasons, not least the importance of joining the dots between what happened to Teresa and LB and for the judge to understand the extent of (repeated) failings. Other considerations are the importance of consistent sentencing and costs.

Breathe.

Crown Court. Childhood memories. The never ever. The never colliding.

LB. Teresa Colvin. Shades of Edward Hartley. And so many others.

The sentencing hearing

The sentencing hearing is, we’ve been warned, likely to last for up to two days and will probably happen between next February and June. Time has lost any meaning as next year becomes dusted with various dates or anticipated dates. I can’t imagine what life without the stench and stain of NHS related processes looks or feels like.

The HSE barrister will present the two ‘cases’ in turn and the Sloven barrister will present a set of mitigating circumstances to try to reduce or contain the punishment (fine). They have a statutory duty apparently, as a public sector body to do this.

There is no such statutory duty to prevent a failing Chief Executive disappearing with a year off and around a £200k pay off. There is no statutory duty to stop a public sector body from recording a preventable death as one of natural causes. From openly and publicly withholding information that is in the public interest. From wasting public money on dubious training programmes. And the rest.

One grotesque rule for the bloatedly powerful and another for the rest of us herbs.

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*I had at the time, and have had since, visions of Richard Partridge telling me to turn to page 908 in a massive legal bundle to confirm that, yes I was not present at this hearing. And then scuttle back to page 26, para 4…

I was in the US. I wasn’t supposed to be there.

 

 

The sick note with no ‘post’ in sight

I spoke to my GP on the phone on Monday (practice process). A GP really. Not my GP. Or maybe she is my GP but she left the surgery today. I’ve not met her before. My GP dropped our family from his too-busy list a good two years or so ago.

“Would you mind giving me some context as to why you may be experiencing these symptoms…?”
“Er, well our son died four years ago…”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Can I ask how he died?”
“He drowned in a hospital bath.”
“Ah. I’m afraid I can’t hear you properly. The line is terrible.”
“He.drowned.in.an.inpatient.unit.”
“He drowned?”
“Yes. On the Slade House site.”
“Oh. I am so sorry to hear that…”

And so the tale unfolded. Today at a face to face appointment I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and signed off work. ‘Treatment’ options are anti-depressants, a mental health intervention of some vague shape (the referral will take up to 6 weeks) or bereavement counselling.

I’m left both unsure and un-reassured how PTSD can be treated when there is no ‘post’ in sight. Is there an ongoing version? The various disciplinary processes are set to stretch well into next year.

Our legal team strongly suggested Rich and I went to see our GPs a good year or so ago, saying how damaging the process is in the long term. No, we both said. This thing ain’t gonna lick us. That was without reckoning on Richard Partridge’s brutal, cruel and unnecessary take down at the GMC tribunal in the summer. Or the Nursing and Midwifery Council being so incompetent they shared our personal details (including my bank details…) with the six nurses and their advocates under investigation around the same time.

I’m writing this in part to underline to other families how the processes involved in gaining accountability in the NHS are lengthy, destructive and deeply harmful. With little in the way of protection of or care about your health and well being. The best you can expect is a support number to ring and start again from scratch. Telling your version of the ‘four years ago our son…’ story to another person. With all that entails, demands and saps. Somewhat ironically, you cease being a patient when you enter the terrain of NHS investigations and become something else. I’m not sure what.

The mental health referral is underway (I think). In early January I have to contact the surgery and speak to a GP (who may or may not be my new GP from today) on the phone. And repeat the above exchange.

There is so much that could be done so differently here it leaps off the page. But it ain’t our job to spell it out. Again. Why don’t some of you – occupying very well paid senior roles to do so – crack on and do it?

Update: Someone from the Mental Health team rang me yesterday evening and asked for symptoms rather than story. [Thank you.] I’m going to have an assessment next week. (Thank you for the messages of support, advice and information which are much appreciated).

Prof Ted the Gut Man and the travelling suitcase

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Exhausted. A terrible, terrible day following George Julian’s live tweeting of the General Medical Council (GMC) tribunal examining the conduct of LB’s ‘responsible’ clinician, Valerie Murphy. A tribunal that began back in August and is now spread across the next weekend or so.

Todays offering included a tangential figure – Prof Ted (a gut expert) on the phone to provide a character reference for Murphy – and an account of a travelling suitcase full of patient records. Murphy apparently asked Prof Ted to pluck records out of her suitcase, like drawing raffle numbers, to comment on her record writing skills. These are apparently top notch now. She’s learned not to keep them in her head.

Twitter commentators went into free fall. Eh? Audit? What records? With patient consent? Were they redacted? What price ethics?  Murphy was unable to attend for undisclosed health reasons. She seemed to be following the @JusticeforLBgmc twitter feed as, late afternoon when her barrister phoned to ask how this ‘audit’ was conducted, she tried to re-shape the suitcase story into something slightly more robust. Apparently she selected the first fourteen patient records (whose?) alphabetically and stuffed them in her travelling suitcase. Prof Ted randomly selected eight records from these 14.

He unwittingly generated criteria for what to look for when choosing a character witness who doesn’t really know you. Not a big demand for such a role possibly but useful to a few maybe:

  • Choose someone who barely knows you but is prepared to stick their hand into a dodgy travelling suitcase of patient records and describe this process under oath.
  • Make sure they are so tangential in your life that you spend around 14 hours a year in situations in which your paths could cross.
  • Make sure they are prepared to make outlandish statements about how good you are. For example, that you’re in the top 10% of consultants they’ve ever come across.
  • And when pushed on this claim, they’re willing to state rubbish like having a PhD and ‘being helpful and willing to offer an opinion’ is evidence of being brilliant at your job.

Around late morning the GMC presented their submission. We were suddenly thrown into a space of rare sense. Suitcases and gut stuff ditched. The GMC arguments can be read on the @JusticeforLBgmc twitter feed. The statements that made me weep were around how it was not unreasonable for us to expect LB would be looked after in the unit. Chloe Fairley, the GMC barrister, made the point that Partridge’s cross-examination of me in August was an example of Murphy’s more general blame-casting which included nurses and support workers.

Rich and I broke off to eat our weight in takeaway nosh. Returning to twitter an hour later Partridge was presenting his submission. Right back to Gut Man and the suitcase. And Murphy’s ‘brainchild’ the ‘yellow card’.  A shameless rip off of a well known government scheme on a pilot scale. The ‘yellow card’ was presented as Murphy’s contribution ‘to the profession’ to make sure no one ever died again.

Her entry back…

The fakery, sham and offensiveness of this redemption narrative, generated once the  tribunal process was put in motion and not as an outcome of LB’s death, was difficult to sit through. The dripping of ‘madam’, ‘in my respectful submission’ and ‘very painful for her’ statements by Partridge were grotesque.

Tears and more tears.

The day ended around 5pm. It starts again tomorrow at 9.30am with a private hearing.

Writing about an ongoing tribunal (or inquest) process is something we’ve thought about. We concluded today the process is so flawed and stacked in favour of the ‘professionals’ it can’t matter.

The deep sadness I feel. For LB. For the callous and continued disregard of his life (and so many other lives) – presented today as a ‘single patient episode in 2013’ – is matched by the obscene acceptance of the clearly wrong by tribunal panels. By senior NHS officials, by Jeremy Hunt and so many others.

We’ll keep writing justice. As simple as. And not be bullied by the processes seem to be designed to silence. That’s all we can do.

[Thanks to @RoseAnnieFlo for the title of this post.]

Imagining a guilty plea

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The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution against Sloven is scheduled for 2pm Monday at Banbury Magistrates Court. If the Trust plead guilty it will be a short hearing adjourned until a sentencing date in the next few months. This is a criminal prosecution. A guilty plea is pleading guilty to a crime. A crime that caused LB’s death.

Katrina Percy, then CEO, consistently distanced herself from the dire happenings she presided over between 2011-2016 with the apparent blessing of those who should know better.  Even after the jury at LB’s inquest found serious failings:

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An ‘absolutely tragic failure’. I don’t know what these words mean. Other than it was nothing to do with me guv. But no one (no one) who should have, challenged them. For Percy, the unit and not her leadership was to blame. Before and during LB’s inquest, the argument was LB died of natural causes and it was my fault. The difficult mother and the pesky blog.

Sloven smeared here and they smeared there. Across the years. Embarrassing briefings outlining the wrongdoing of #JusticeforLB campaigners. Hacking, trolling and persecuting hapless staff members. And more. Blaming staff. Blaming everyone but themselves. There was no looking glass among the Sloven senior exec. Or Oxfordshire County Council and the Clinical Commissioning Group. No reflection whatsoever.

A tawdry soup of typically self-serving, smug, arrogant and sometimes nasty individuals. With inflated salaries and no understanding of what it is to be human.

Percy took her massive pay off, disappearing in to the early winter sunset last October. Waiting in the wings to re-launch herself as a leadership consultant on Linkedin.

Meanwhile, the new and remaining board members took it upon themselves to exonerate her in the recently published (and now suddenly removed from their website) 2016/7 annual review. She displayed neither “negligence or incompetence” apparently “during her time with the Trust to the extent that would warrant her dismissal”.  Despite two prosecutions underway.

Psst… board members – past and present – do you really not understand that patients have experienced serious harm or died under Percy’s leaky leadership?

Really?

Imagining a guilty plea

Just imagine. A guilty plea from a Trust who have forced us to fight every step of the beyond distressing way for accountability. Full pages of black redacted pages while other people leaked key quality reviews, briefings and more. Lies, more damn lies and non-disclosure across 51 months to us, to the coroner, and I assume to the police… Smears, delay and prevarication. Desperate attempts to prevent an Article 2 inquest and jury.

Valerie Murphy recently sharply shifted from a four year blanket denial of failings to partial admittance at her tribunal. Will Sloven, having steadfastly trawled through the darkest of dark practices, suddenly shift to a guilty plea?

If they plead guilty what does it mean? Can we can expect an apology for everything we’ve endured since LB died? The mother-blame shite. The staff witness statements with their ‘my relationship with Dr Ryan’ sections. The #fuckingpest commentary from the Berryman board member’s son. Will the abusive caller acknowledge I wasn’t a vindictive cow…?

Will there be recognition that we were collectively trying to get accountability for LB’s death?

Will Oxfordshire County Council and the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group hold up their hands and finally admit their role in commissioning and enabling crap care on their watch?

Will people/organisations actually take responsibility for LB’s death and their subsequent actions?

An unexpected call

On the bus to work this morning, my phone rang. It rarely rings. Sloven CEO, Julie Dawes. Ringing to update me about Monday. She wanted to run her statement by me, given we’ve been upset about earlier Sloven statements. Reflecting on our upset over previous statements is good. The statement she read out was an improvement on previous Sloven statements. More heartfelt and human.

It was missing any reference to the impact of Sloven’s actions on us since LB died though. What they forced us to endure. Walking through Cornmarket I tried to explain to Julie what it was like to listen to the Sloven barrister argue that drowning was a natural cause of death during LB’s inquest. Just one example of the slippery dishonesty the Trust demonstrated. I tried to explain how damaging this process has been.

Julie listened and said she’d try to reflect this in the statement. She said she wouldn’t attend the hearing on Monday ‘for various reasons’, she recognised how distressing Monday will be be and said if there was anything she could do to help I should get in touch. She reiterated this a couple of times. She asked if I was going to read out my witness impact statement on Monday. No, I said.

I thanked her, hung up and an hour or so later wondered why she, or the board chair, weren’t going to attend the hearing. It’s a criminal prosecution and most people don’t get to not attend ‘for various reasons’. If nothing else, it’s a simple sign of respect.

Given the earlier offer of ‘anything she could do…’ I thought I’d call her back to ask her. Number withheld. She could phone me, generating distress, but I couldn’t call her back.

I’m left wondering how much of the call this morning was driven by an underlying concern about reputation and managing comms. I mean if the Trust seriously wanted to demonstrate evidence of change the CEO or Board Chair would attend the hearing on Monday. And I wouldn’t be asked if I’m going to read out our victim impact statement.

The day after LB died Sloven wrote ‘Mother’s blog may cause a risk to the reputation of the organisation’. Over four long years later the only risk to this organisation remains themselves. And their actions.

 

‘I want to ask you a little about your blog…’

This blog has again loomed large. It did at LB’s inquest and again this week at the ongoing GMC tribunal. Dr Murphy’s respective barristers both presented it as a transgressive space/action that somehow underpinned or fed into what unfolded. It was a malign catalyst for something (I’m not sure what either barrister was trying to argue other than the blog damaged the relationship between some consultant psychiatrists and a patient’s mother).

How social media ‘feedback’ is ‘used’ by health and social care is the subject of considerable research, some of which is happening in our research group. A colleague has been interviewing people who document their health experiences online to explore why they do so.

When I started writing the blog back in May 2011 ‘online patient feedback’ was not a twinkle in my eye and possibly wasn’t even a thing. I wanted to capture the funny stuff that happened in an online diary. I didn’t expect it would be read beyond close family and friends (or even by them). In fact it became quite widely read and a few hundred people started to follow it. The fun focus sadly disappeared towards the end of 2012 and it became an account of trying and failing to get support for LB and subsequently the 107 days he spent in the unit.

This week the blog questions unfolded like this [RP is Dr Murphy’s barrister] :

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This was ground already thrashed out during LB’s inquest nearly two years ago now [VM is Dr Murphy talking about a community psychiatrist].

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A different view was presented by the Band 6 nurse during his evidence:

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I was told a few years ago that a STATT staff member was warned about LB’s imminent admittance four days before he was admitted. I thought this must somehow be wrong. I mean we didn’t know the unit existed until the day we took him there. It was almost in the realm of Mulder and Scully terrain to think that discussions were going on, without us, about a specialist unit we were to find out about from a mate on March 19th.

This week it became apparent that Dr Murphy and other consultant psychiatrists had discussed LB’s potential admittance to STATT (unrecorded discussion) in the weeks before it happened. I spoke with one of the consultants from back in the day earlier today and it turns out that my blog was known about before LB was admitted to STATT. My blog (and my aggression or forthright communication depending on where you sit) generated strong emotions, anxiety, irritation and distrust. There was, as JC said ‘an irrational fear of the blog’.

Social media activity like this was unprecedented and no one who was bothered about it knew how to deal with it. Appeals were made to senior Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) levels to somehow close it down. These were robustly rebutted by a redacted person who, like JC above, suggested that it created an opportunity for engagement.

I appreciate the frank discussion which happened with no notice today. I was also shocked that consultants could be so discommoded by the blogging of a parent, that none of them were able to read, discuss or engage with what was being written in a constructive way. I’d been carefully documenting the complete lack of health and social care support for an increasingly anxious and unwell young man for three or four months by then, or possibly longer.  This is remarkably similar to the Blog Briefing Sloven circulated the day after LB died in which concern focused solely on reputation and professional pride.

I wonder if my writing style somehow added to the fear and distrust. The irreverence and liberal swearing. If I had written a more conventional and ‘polite’ account would it have been better received? I suspect not given the consultant I spoke with denied actually reading it. This was irrational fear.

I’m baffled that not one of these consultants was able to speak to me about their concerns. (Interesting we could have an open discussion today… I assume the toxic mother label is finally shifting as Sloven failings are finally recognised.) I’m deeply horrified we were oblivious to this consternation about the blog when we admitted LB. As the GMC argued this morning, it was Dr Murphy’s responsibility to talk to me about LB’s treatment. It was also the duty of these consultants, surely, to share their concerns with me about my blog?

I suggested to the consultant that the extreme response at the time was generated by the lack of actual challenge to medics by patients or families who are too easily silenced in different ways. The blog created a space of challenge but instead of being used to improve practice, or even engage with and consider the limitations of practice, it was despised and I suspect had an impact on how LB was treated. The veneer of professionalism can be shown to be very thin when ‘transgressional’ activity takes place.

There is some irony that #JusticeforLB is now used in health and social care learning and teaching. The blog also created an unusual contemporaneous record of what happened. The power of the posts that reviled or worried staff before LB died formed part of the evidence at his inquest. The typically disempowered position family members occupy when their testimony is dismissed as ‘anecdote’ differed here. Lowly families aren’t allowed the defence of ‘I did it in my head’ like Dr Murphy has used this week at the tribunal but I had written it down.

There is much to think about, discuss and chew over here in some ways. In other ways there ain’t. Health and social care professionals should be engaging with patients and families in different ways, at different times and in different spaces. They should be encouraging comment and feedback. I hope our experience is already historical and within the ivory tower of unassailable medical practice medics are learning to be more humble and take public accounts of patient experiences as opportunities to better understand the consequences of their actions, or non-actions, and the interaction between the various individuals involved. These accounts should be treasured not vilified.

 

 

 

Writing trauma

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I want to write this post as close as possible to giving evidence at the General Medical Council (GMC) tribunal investigating Dr Murphy’s fitness to practice. To capture the essence and rawness of the experience.

The unnecessary and unchecked brutality. And destruction.

It’s a pretty and long detailed account. That is writing trauma.

[I also acknowledge our GMC solicitor and colleagues who have done what they can to try to ease this journey.]

Weeks of dread led to Rich and I setting off to Manchester (earlier than planned) by train on Monday. Summer holiday travel. Young kids and families. Excitement and crisps.

Our summer has been blighted by the timing of this tribunal.

Rosie decided to come too after I was unable to speak to her on the phone on Sunday evening (after writing this post). I simply couldn’t speak.

Stirring up the horror of what happened four years ago now is, as you’d expect, deeply distressing. LB died. He died. The shite we accepted or were made to endure back in the day is harrowing. And increasingly baffling as we grow further from the cosh of typical learning disability offerings.

Following the @JusticeforLBGMC twitter feed on the train we were surprised when Dr Murphy accepted 28-30 of the allegations raised. Not the Dr Murphy we’d so far come across. With so few allegations left to deal with our thoughts turned to the apology I would probably receive when giving evidence the next day. An apology four years in the making. But an apology.

The next morning, we gathered in the hotel minutes from where the tribunal was being held. George and Charlotte left for the tribunal just before 9.30am. I switched my internet off. Witnesses are not allowed to hear witness evidence and LB’s neurologist was due to give evidence before me. Rich, Rosie and I sat around. Anxious and agitated. Rosie followed the twitter feed passing her phone to Rich every so often. It’s fine, they said. Looking grim. The GMC solicitor called to say the 10.30am start for my evidence was looking on time.

Rich answered the phone. I was on the toilet. Again.

We walked up the road. A couple of men with television cameras at their feet were outside the building chatting. On the 7th floor, we were shown to an inevitably bleak witness room. The GMC solicitor and barrister came in and described what to expect.

We waited. There was an unexpected delay of about 45 minutes as the tribunal panel questioned the first witness.

We flicked through photos of LB on Rosie’s phone.

 

“So cute…”

“Look at that baguette he’s holding!” [sob]

IMG_2810Then it was time. The clerk took us into the tribunal room (left). Rich and Rosie sat in the public bit at the back while I was taken to a large desk facing the tribunal panel. It had a white arch level file with over 1000 pages of documentation, glass of water and microphone.  Before sitting I had to read an oath from a laminated coloured sheet. I couldn’t read it without crying. I couldn’t at LB’s inquest. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s such a stark reminder of the horror that is this (public sector generated) experience and the layers of utter shite that have been woven through it since.

The panel chair introduced the people around the table. The GMC barrister checked I’d signed and re-read my two statements which were in the front of the white file. Then it was over to Dr Murphy’s barrister, Mr P.

There was no apology. Our naive optimism was instantly crushed. Mr P asked me to turn to page x in the file and began a meticulous questioning that involved turning backwards and forwards between my two statements in the front of the file and medical records 700 or so pages towards the back of it.

He had a skimpy pile of the relevant pages laid out in front of him. He didn’t have to lob wedges of 1000+ pages backwards and forwards over a metal lever arch file bridge and leaf through numerous pages to find the relevant page, and section of text.

Briefly scanning through pages of painful words about LB’s horrific last few months.

His lightness of documentation and organisation of the ‘cross-examination’ meant he effortlessly lined up question after question after question. I felt I was being repeatedly sliced open with such a sharp knife there was no trace left on the blade.

“If you could turn to page x… Dr J is summarising his thoughts here, in this paragraph. Did he share them with you?”

“He made a phone call to Dr M. Can you remember how long that call lasted?”

“Turning back to page y. Do you recall Dr Murphy introducing herself in this meeting? In your statement on page j, you said…”

“If you could turn to page z of your statement. CTM meetings were held every Monday, you describe them as 10min meetings. Dr Murphy recalls the meetings being much longer…”

“Turning to page a, another meeting you did not attend, the notes state…”

A masterclass in something.

Over time, photos can become defining memories of particular events as the broader context fades away. Under Mr P’s questioning, on the 7th floor of that imposing building on Oxford Street, Manchester, LB’s medical notes became photo-like. It became impossible to think about and answer the questions that kept coming. To think beyond the words I was being directed to on different pages at different ends of the lever arch file. My heart started to thud so hard and erratically I thought it would knock me off the chair. Black edges creeping around my vision made it harder to find or read the notes. I became fearful of fainting and began to doubt my ability to answer questions truthfully.

“I don’t remember.” “I’m not sure.” “I just don’t know…”

Mr P continued asking questions. Apparently at ease with an approach that unsettles,  distracts and confuses. Seemingly oblivious to my distress. No one intervened. I had no representation.

“On page j of your statement you describe Dr M as dismissive, arrogant and distant. Do you think that’s a fair assessment of Dr M’s conduct or is it coloured by what happened?”

“It might be coloured by what happened but I was expecting a knight in shining armour from a lead consultant who would do something.”

“It’s very upsetting for Dr Murphy to hear any patients’ relative describe her as such…”

Something stopped. An almost powerpoint presentation (and I fucking hate powerpoint) started to run through my mind. LB holding a giant piece of baguette on holiday. The indescribable pain of his death. What we’ve endured over the past four years. Dr Murphy suddenly admitting 30 odd failures in LB’s care a day earlier. Rich and Rosie sitting behind me listening to this inhumane and barbaric form of questioning with no recourse to action.

I gripped the edge of the table and asked the panel chair for a break.

The clerk took me to a room on the other side of the building. By this time, I was sobbing and repeatedly asking “How could they do this?” without expecting an answer. She was very kind but couldn’t ‘talk’ to me. I was left on my own with a glass of water and tissues for five minutes. There are no words for how I felt. They don’t exist.

Walking back towards the tribunal room with the clerk the blackness came back and I briefly stumbled. ‘Do not pass out’ I steeled myself. The thought of delaying this foul process was too awful to imagine. There was a delay before going back into the room as the tribunal were deliberating something. I stood in a section of the corridor with Dr Murphy and her legal team. Rich, Rosie and other members of the public were waiting in a different section of the corridor. I stared out of the window. Half seeing the Manchester skyline, Oxford Road rail station. The clock tower. Grey and threatening skies.

We were allowed back in the room.

Mr P started:

“I was asking about personality side of things and dynamics and wanted to ask you a little about your blog…”

And so it went on. The same questions that had been asked, answered and dismissed during LB’s inquest. Pages to manoeuvre. Notes to look at. Mr P didn’t miss a beat.

After two hours it was finally over. We left the building ignoring the television cameras outside and walked back to the hotel.

I can’t make any sense of experiencing harm in a medical tribunal. One held to explore the fitness to practice of our son’s responsible clinician. How on earth can this be possible and apparently acceptable?

And Mr P? You have taken crapshite to a new low.

Postscript: After Valerie Murphy spent the entire day giving evidence (well worth a catch up at @JusticeforLBGMC with a blood pressure warning for being chillingly shit) it became clear my evidence contributed nothing to the defence case. Nothing whatsoever. It was the equivalent of a kicking down a dark alley by a gang of thugs.

Grotesque.

 

 

Five tribunals and a dress code

Coming up this summer; a two-week General Medical Council (GMC) tribunal for the consultant psychiatrist to be held in Manchester in August, and four Nursing and Midwifery (NMC) tribunals.

  • Four years after LB drowned, alone, in an NHS bath.
  • Over three years after an independent report found he died a preventable death through neglect.
  • Nearly two years after an inquest jury determined he died through neglect and serious failings.

It’s all going on this summer. The pipers are suddenly calling the tunes.

The NMC sent me (Rich has dropped off these communications without explanation) four identical letters last week which open with a cheery:

On behalf of the NMC, thank you for your time and commitment in helping us to investigate this case; your help is greatly appreciated. Without the evidence provided by witnesses we would not be able to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the public. We recognise the valuable contribution you have made to this investigation.

‘This case’? ‘My help’? ‘The valuable contribution…‘ Really?

Is humanity bypass a criteria for a job at the NMC?  I’m all for change but spare me the vacuous Dambuster shite. LB died.

The letter continues by ‘asking me’ to provide my unavoidable (in bold) commitments in June, July and August. There is no reflection of the enormity of demanding these dates (after years of crap all action) so breezily, four times over, with a response deadline of ten days. No. The reverse. If those pesky bereaved parents don’t get their act together to respond, there is a simple fallback position:

If we do not hear from you we will assume you are available and proceed to schedule the hearings.

I’m then directed to a lengthy weblink which I have to retype from the letter to find out more (there is so much so wrong here but seriously, if you ain’t sending a letter electronically, a URL is as good as fucking useless).

It gets worse.

At each of these tribunals, the staff member is represented by a barrister who can ‘cross-examine’ the witness.

Giving your evidence in person also allows the opposing side, if present at the hearing, to ask you questions and test your evidence. This is vital to ensure a fair and thorough hearing.

The opposing side? I don’t think that the staff who should have been looking after LB are on an ‘opposing side’. What a terrible way to frame the process. But if there are opposing sides, surely both (or none) have recourse to legal representation? (Witnesses are not allowed representation). How can this possibly be a fair or thorough process?

The concerns and focus of these regulatory bodies should be on the integrity, professionalism and abilities of the people they register, not putting (bereaved) members of the public through trial and examination. There’s a shedload of evidence to draw upon to do this, including two weeks of inquest recordings, staff and other witness statements.

James Titcombe described his and his partner’s experiences earlier:

I have spent days giving evidence to both regulatory bodies, checking this evidence, finding supporting documentation and waiting for action. In the next few months, I’m expected to travel to Manchester and wherever in the UK the four NMC tribunals are held (using annual leave and making sure I’m available at all times), to be cross examined by five different barristers.

You can fuck your denim, sportswear and trainers ban.

Oh dear Mike

Oh dear. Mike Durkins, National Director for Patient Safety at NHS Improvement (my arse), made this statement about the CQC deaths review;

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There is so much so wrong with this statement, not least Durkin’s apparent indifference or obliviousness, to what are, often, preventable deaths. What really makes my jaw ache though is his bizarre reference to families of learning disabled and mental health patients. Mike, all families should be properly treated and supported when a loved on has died unexpectedly. Just like all unexpected deaths should be properly investigated. Singling out these families suggests a complete misunderstanding of this latest scandalous unfolding.

As Patient Safety Director you really need to be focusing on why certain patients are dying (consistently) in the first place. [And, if you need herbs off the street to point this out to you, you should probably have a long, hard think about whether you are in the right job.]

Also, before you make a leap to global standards of excellence, you might want to see what’s going on in Spain and their response to the way in which the NHS treat certain members of society. Strikes me, you could learn a thing or two.

maurizio-pic

alicia2

alicia

 

 

 

The curious incident of the earlier death in the bath

In June 2006, HC, 57, died unexpectedly in the same bath that LB died in. Days after two ECT treatments he was unable to consent to. This emerged during LB’s inquest in October 2015. The coroner, who was clearly surprised to hear about the earlier death requested statements from the key three people involved in HC’s death.

  • The student nurse present in the bathroom

Once I had H supported I managed to pull my alarm, whilst at the same time shouting for assistance. At that point a member of nursing staff entered the bathroom, it was a female member of staff but I cannot recall who it was, simply due to how long ago this incident occurred. I can however recall that [nursing manager] followed that female in to the bathroom. It was approximately 10-15 seconds from H starting to have a seizure to other staff members joining me in the bathroom. By the time they arrived the water was drained and H was still in the bath and [nursing manager] told me to leave the room, which I promptly did. I understand that he did this purely because of my age and experience and he felt it was best to be away from what was happening to H. I did not see what happened next and never saw H again.

  • The nursing manager 

At the time of the incident I know I was not on the Unit.

Later in his statement he says:

I am not sure if I arrived there before Dr J or after but she went into the bathroom and assisted in trying to revive patient. I also cannot recall whether paramedics were already present when I arrived at the ward or whether they arrived after.

  • 3. Dr J (who phoned me the day LB died)

As the attending doctor, I pronounced HC dead.

Later in her statement she says:

On 29 June 2006, I received a phone call from the HM Coroner’s Office asking me if I was prepared to complete and signed the Part 1 of HC’s Death Certificate as I was the attending doctor at the time of his death. They called me again after 15 minutes and informed me that the HM Coroner was not going to ask for a postmortem examination and open an inquest. They informed me that HM Coroner would sign the Part II of the Death Certificate.

The 2014 Sloven ‘investigation’

Another Sloven psychiatrist was tasked with finding out more about HC’s death in 2014. He wrote to the Sloven Clinical Director on March 25 stating:

[Dr J] confirmed that there had been a death some years before Dr M’s appointment. [Dr J] relayed that the circumstances were different in some respects to the epilepsy related death last summer, but similar in that an inpatient on STATT had a seizure in the bath. An attempt at resus followed but it was complicated by the difficulty staff had extricating the man from the bath. He died soon after.

On May 13, the Sloven ‘inquiry’ concluded:

As this was an unexpected death of an NHS inpatient it was reported as a SIRI. There is no evidence of an RCA being undertaken. The Coroner had pronounced the death as natural causes.

This is how you erase a life and a death in full view. Particular lives and deaths. Those that don’t count.