Entering the labyrinth; a leder tale

The leder report was published on Friday 4 May. Three years of the Bristol University project reviewing the premature deaths of learning disabled people.

[Blog commentary by Mark Neary, Mark Brown, two posts from Chris Hatton here and here. Opinion piece by Ian Birrell here. All worth reading (in any order).]

Key issues

1. The findings of the report (shameful).
2. The underfunding of the work (shameful).
3. The attempts to bury the report (shameful).

Here I reflect on the opaque and confusing labyrinth seemingly designed to make the premature deaths of learning disabled people disappear.

A song with no title 

No one knows what leder stands for. Including ‘go to’ Google.

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A (non) communication strategy

The report was finished in November 2017 and has been sitting in the grimy halls of NHS England while a communication strategy was devised. This took the shape of ‘timing, timing, timing and no communication’:

  • Bank holiday weekend and local election results.
  • No advance copies for the media.
  • No comment from NHS England or the Bristol team.

There would be no comment.

Holed up in the Holiday Inn Salford opposite the BBC studios on Thursday night there was no advance copy of the report despite repeated requests and cajoling from journalists.

I was sent a sneaky few bullet point findings to digest.

I went to the bar.

The coverage

8am-ish after fear-interrupted sleep still no public sign of the review.

Waiting outside the BBC Breakfast studio on the second or third floor, a 4-6 minute dash to the booth in the foyer for patching into the Radio 4 Today show was explained to me. Sofa to booth. Live coverage. Of premature death.

No report still.

The order was reversed. I beetled downstairs with Jayne McCubbins (who was instrumental in the coverage that unfolded). We worked out how to turn off my new phone, donned massive headphones and waited. In the small, darkened space. To speak to the Today programme.

The presenter wasn’t versed in the implications of the report. Jayne provided the headlines then I was asked about LB.

Nope. Don’t coat this scandalous evidence with a gratuitous dose of pity porn.

No.

It was a fairly tense interview. At the end a response from NHS England was read out. [Their only response to date.]

We welcome, they say, this interim report, the first of its kind in the world. These early lessons will feed into hospital and community services work including early detection of symptoms of sepsis and pneumonia prevention, constipation and epilepsy where there is significant progress. They go on to say another £1.4m more will be spent this year so that those responsible locally as well as the University of Bristol and NHS HQ can ramp up the speed and number of reviews.

There’s not much to say about this statement other than the absence of the gravitas, sensitivity, concern and commitment to action you would expect. A report that should have generated immediate and unqualified responses by the government, NHS England and others.

Ramping up the speed.

Ten minutes later I was on the red sofa with Naga and Charlie. They asked relevant, important questions.

“Who is listening?”

No one.

The label of learning disability is now the equivalent of being diagnosed with a life limiting illness. This report adds further evidence to a bloated evidence base.

The coverage that morning is generating the saddest (powerful) tweets from various families. George Julian is pulling them together here in a twitter moment.

Including Danny and Joey.

An urgent question and a bolt for the door

Today Barbara Keeley MP raised an urgent question about the report. Jeremy Hunt legged it as soon as she stood up to talk. An extraordinary moment. All that talk on December 15 2015 when the Mazars review was leaked to the BBC. Pomp and promises. The world leading champion of patient safety…

He left. He walked out. He couldn’t spare 20-30 minutes of his time to engage. His myopic and dangerous lens never more visible in this action.

The hapless and hopeless Caroline Dinenage was left to fend questions. The Minister of (no) Care. Parroting ill-informed and vacuous responses. It was a hard watch. The full transcript is here.

Questions were asked about the content of the report and the publication timing.

The Bristol team finally burst into action. Tweeting to say no, this ain’t true.

Too little too late

I’ve puzzled over the role of the Bristol team here. As a researcher myself. We’ve long known about the challenges the team have faced with a paucity of funding and unrealistic expectations. They have, in some ways, done the best they could do with that level of challenge. The problem I have is with their lack of challenge to the challenge.

Only 8% of the 1300 deaths referred to the team have been reviewed so far.

1300 people. With families, lives, history and stories. People. With mums, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents, cousins, aunties, uncles, friends, pets. People. Some with no family. Still people. People.

Erased.

Rubbed out.

By an underfunded project that couldn’t cope with the number of people.
By the Bristol team who stood by.
By the actions of NHS England who remain silent (and so much worse).
By the action of Dinenage who was prepared to stand up and defend the indefensible.
By the silence of Jeremy Hunt.

Violence, silence and erasure.

 

Danny Tozer

Danny’s inquest began this week. Three weeks ago we set off on the  #CaminoLB. His parents Rosie (second left) and Tim (second right) joined us for the first few days. (Rosie’s account of what happened before and after Danny’s death can be read here.) Much talk and reflection about the inquest as we carried the red teapot in Danny’s memory.

We hoped, we seriously (naively) hoped and kind of convinced ourselves that Mencap would do the right thing. Given the transparency generated by George Julian’s live tweeting and Mencap’s self proclaimed status as ‘the voice of learning disability’ we thought they’d pitch up and park the dirty tricks bag that too commonly appears at inquests.

They didn’t.

A few initial thoughts here (in no particular order).

A clusterfuck of fuckwad proportions.

Natural cause of death

Danny died of natural causes. Apparently. According to the Coroner’s office. There would be no post-mortem, inquest, scrutiny.

People assume unexpected deaths always involve inquests. Not always. Learning disability is a kind of ‘get out of jail’ natural cause of death card.

This is Rosie and Tim’s fight to gain accountability and answers about the death of their beyond loved son.

Erasure of house mates

Staff trauma was raised by the Mencap barrister ‘without wanting to detract from the family’s trauma’. The distress of the four other housemates present that morning was erased. One witness talked of going to put ‘bags on wheelchairs’ while the ambulance was called. A grotesque and graphic illustration of the non-personhood of people who should be the focus.

Blaming the parents

Mencap couldn’t help themselves. There has been no acknowledgement of Danny’s death this week. No kindness, empathy or apparent reflection. The Mencap barrister brutally cross-examined Tim and Rosie on the first day. Did they complain? Did they complain enough? Why didn’t they make their concerns more apparent? Why and why not? 

Hints of ‘difficult parents’ dripped into evidence. 

They answered each question carefully and with dignity.  At one point Rosie said she’d brought a scrapbook of Danny’s life that she hoped the coroner and others would look at. The contrast of this simple act of love and humanity with the barrister’s questioning was almost unbearable. 

‘Private time’

Much discussion and questions related to ‘private time’. Mencap contributions by staff witnesses and/or their barrister focused obsessively on Danny’s morning wank. This relentless and dehumanising focus seemed to be aimed at absolving Mencap of responsibility for Danny’s death. He was not to be disturbed or interrupted during ‘private time‘. 

The sensor mat

The sensor mat. The epilepsy bed sensor mat translated into ‘no need for observation’. Niggles about the sensor mat tumbled out almost by accident during confused and often incoherent evidence.

The mat worked.

The alarm went off during ‘private time’. It disturbed the whole house. It was definitely working.  It was tweaked and replaced a few months before Danny died. A reference to mat ‘settings’ hastily retracted. The mat had a coloured light – blue, red or green – depending on who was giving evidence. It definitely worked. It was checked every night. 

Except it didn’t work. Whispers emerged suggesting it was turned off during ‘private time’.

Staff members tried to simulate seizures in Danny’s bed. Grotesque, unfathomable action. Unrecorded. Anecdotal.

The mat worked. It didn’t. Nobody really cared at the time of Danny’s death. It was natural causes. No one from the front line staff to local, middle or senior management gave a flying fuck. Danny died of natural causes.

Epilepsy awareness

There was a strong sense (similar to LB’s inquest) that Danny didn’t have ‘proper’ epilepsy. Just a fake, learning disabled type version. A bizarre and incomprehensible position sustained after both Danny, LB (and others) died. I don’t have words for this. Just tears.

Family barrister, Ben McCormack, consistently and carefully raised epilepsy awareness among staff witnesses. He returned to the point that staff knew they should time Danny’s seizures and call an ambulance after five minutes. The observation levels described fell far short of this. His efforts fell on stony and unmoving ground both among front line and more senior staff. An almost pride in epilepsy unawareness played out in court

The hours

Descriptions of the number of staff, ‘residents’ and the sums underpinning ‘sleeping’, ‘waking ‘hours and 1:1 hours was like looking at my crochet chair of tangled wool, half crocheted squares, knots, mistakes and more. Without the colour.

Reported allocations (one house mate had 24 hours 1:1 cover while the rest seemed to have a range of 1:1 and general hours) seeped and steeped into an amorphous mass of incoherence. A nasty mix of double counting and ‘sharing hours’.

The Tozers took Danny home when they felt there weren’t enough staff on duty. A shortage treated with short thrift by one staff member. Danny’s activities highlighted as problematic. The ‘voice of learning disability’ seriously rocked the impoverished life model of supported non-living this week. 

Staff attitudes

Staff provided a pretty much consistent and desolate picture of disinterest, dismissal and casualness. “I can’t remember” a much repeated response. More senior staff members used an almost more baffling “I believe…” for questions they should have known the answers to.

There was no apparent preparation, no reading reports, checking notes, minutes, care or reflection. It was as if Mencap staff were beaten and stripped of any humanity. A bleak, cold and callous picture of disregard. 

I hope Rosie, Tim and family are ok tonight. Their determination to get justice for Danny has already thrown up a shedload of questions, concerns and horrors that should be grasped and shaken by those who should until we no longer accept the shite that permeates ‘learning disability’ care.

I’m just not sure who ‘those who should’ are any more.

 

Housecoats, aprons and mucky labour

Captivated by the women of Galicia along the last section of #CaminoLB.

“Can I take your photo?” I asked pointing at my camera. A few said no. Others stood tall. Looking me in the eye with quiet confidence. There was no artifice or prevarication.

Incredible, beautiful faces.

Lines. Life carvings. Contours of determination, humour, dignity. Resilience. Well earned, authentic resilience.

Glimpses of triumph and more. So many stories.

Housecoats, aprons and mucky labour.

Back to work tomorrow.  It’s been a long five years.


Smashing it

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We did it. A historic judgement by Mr Justice Stuart-Smith on Monday morning which involved a £2m fine for Sloven Health. LB and TJ Colvin were treated with the respect they deserve. Justice was served. We had been prepared that the sum of money was not as important as the Judge’s comments would carry more weight. As it was Mr Justice smashed both. He carefully read out a judgement so drenched in sense and fairness it was extraordinary to listen to. In a court again packed with JusticeforLB campaigners including several members of My Life My Choice.

The sensitivity and commitment of the Judge, Bernard, the HSE team and the media who attended (many of whom have followed the campaign over the years) were also extraordinary. Kindnesses that will stay with us.

Our statement about the prosecution can be read here.

Michael Buchanan’s news film with beautiful video clips of LB is here.

A few thoughts and outstanding questions

We were surprised (and pleased) to hear Jeremy Corbyn raise LB, TJ and the campaign in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. May also praised the efforts of the families. This is good but serious questions remain about the failure of the various regulators/bodies to act on what the Judge described as ‘the dark years‘ of Sloven. Jeremy Hunt is captured in the Commons looking slightly uncomfortable. So he should. It’s not the job of bereaved families to ‘uncover the serious systemic problems‘ in health and social care.

Mr Justice describes ‘very grave concern‘ that endemic failures were allowed to arise at all and to persist for so long. I mean why was this? Do senior people leave sense on a middle rung of the ladder to success? Are critical scrutiny and self reflection dirty words in senior circles? Is the culture so dire that no one can offer challenge to unspeakable actions?

Many of the mountains of email exchanges we have through Freedom of Information requests include abysmal statements and the complete absence of challenge to these statements by numerous people. Norman Lamb stands out as someone who stood firm, recognised how wrong it was and acted. And made sure action happened.

We have in the Justice shed a long standing plan to hold an exhibition plastering this documentation around a cavernous space to allow people to wander around and read the levels of shite and what families are forced to endure. What is said and not said. Replicated in too many other cases.

Looking back across the five years there was a wilful refusal by NHS Improvement, NHS England, the CQC and Jeremy Hunt to act. One example. Two referrals (yes two) of Katrina Percy to the CQC’s Fitness to Practice panel in 2015 and 2016.

1. Mike Richards sent  a ‘fuck off she’s fine’ letter months later (the referral had got lost). 2. After chasing we were told the fitness panel would wait for NHS Improvement’s trouble-shooting Chair Tim Smart’s exec board capability review. Smart bafflingly concluded the board were all fine. Percy again exonerated.

NHS Improvement and the rest continued to slumber.

Point 4 of the judgment states: ‘When the systemic problems were finally recognised, a welcome realism entered the Trust’s appreciation of what happened‘. This interpretation glosses over the crucial point that it was the replacement of ‘pay off Percy’ which enabled the (slow) recognition of failings. She and her turgid, complacent and arrogant board have got off scot free.

Unlike the MPTS panel which decided to include the ‘difficult field of learning disability’ as two mitigating factors in deciding to suspend Valerie Murphy, Mr Justice states ‘the fact that the Trust’s breaches were most likely to affect vulnerable patients is an aggravating factor‘. Of course it is. That he simply saw LB and TJ as human is at the heart of his narrative and judgement. And what has been largely lacking from the broader NHS related responses.

The sentence is here. The biggest Health and Safety related prosecution fine in the history of the NHS.

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There has been some unsurprising meithering on social media about this fine. Yesterday we found out that Sloven quietly sold the Ridgeway Centre in High Wycombe last November. This was one of the spoils they took with them having lost the Oxford contract because they were so shite. A sale that netted them a tawdry sum of £2.3m. Dosh taken from Oxfordshire provision.

It’s a shame the £2m can’t be channelled  into providing groundbreaking provision for LB’s peers some of whom continue to flounder without appropriate support in county.  ‘A TJ and Connor centre of life, love, fun and brilliance’. But that’s out of our hands.

Mr Justice was spot on with his ‘just and proportionate outcome‘.

Finally

We’re pretty much done now. We did what we set out to do and whilst none of it will bring back our beautiful boy we collectively did a bloody good job. As Mark Neary reflected yesterday we may have changed the way campaigns are run.

One of the central features of the campaign has been the extraordinary live tweeting of the various hearings by George Julian. She is now looking into a more sustainable way of doing this for other families. Making dirty practices by public sector funded and instructed counsels visible in real time is priceless. If you can spare £1 a month (or more) please fill in the form on the post and let George know.

I hope a light will be shone on the persistent cover up of the ‘dark years’, the culpability of Percy and the board and that those more widely implicated will absorb some of Mr J’s sense, fairness and integrity and now speak out. Critical scrutiny, transparency and honesty is essential for safe, effective and inclusive health and social care.

I’m off to Spain tomorrow with various #JusticeforLB campaigners to walk the LB bus the last 170 miles to Santiago de Compostela*.

After that it’s back to work. And life.

Thanks, thanks and many more thanks – so many thanks – to everyone who did and kept doing what they could and so much more. We seriously smashed it.

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*UK walks are also taking place. Rumour has it, in another magical twist, Mr Fortune, Winnie Betsva’s barrister from the inquest is doing the Devon walk.

 

 

 

A day in court and some justice sunshine

L1032452-3The sentencing hearing for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution took place this week. The #JusticeforLB bus made a surprise appearance at Oxford Crown Court thanks to Alicia Wood who brought it back from Spain where it’s rested since CaminoLB 2016. Rosie, Will, Owen and Tom joined other family members, friends and more for the final day of sentencing yesterday.

Within minutes we heard the judgement would be delayed until 10am next Monday. Disappointing but five days doesn’t register on my delay scale any more given we’ve waited 1825 days to get this far.

A backdrop to the two day hearing was that Sloven had pleaded guilty to the charges before any charges were brought by the HSE. The new CEO Nick Broughton held his hands up to say ‘fair cop’ and accepted systemic failings between 2011-2016.

[Now known as The Percy Years with an ‘HSJ CEO of the Year’ award as a logo.]

Broughton’s statement included open acknowledgement of the way in which we’d had to fight for justice and how wrong this was.

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#JusticeforLB sunshine at last penetrated the black establishment clouds. A position we didn’t anticipate back in the day.

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This welcome development took a bit of a drubbing by the end of the second day but more of that later.

Bernard Thorogood was acting counsel for the HSE. He spent Monday and yesterday morning laying out the case for prosecution.

Roger and TJ

On Monday this involved the death of TJ Colvin in 2012 at a Sloven unit in Hampshire. In 2013 the coroner found no systemic failures in TJ’s care and it was case closed. That is, until the pesky #JusticeforLB kids persuaded David Nicholson to commission a review into the unexpected deaths in Sloven’s mental health/learning disability provision between 2011-2015. This was to become the Mazars report. An extraordinary review which enabled further scrutiny of TJ’s death.

The details were harrowing. Failing after failing after failing in TJ’s care. The HSE case underpinned by one of the quiet heroes on the long road to justice; Mike Holder. Mike, a health and safety expert, had in early 2012 carefully and meticulously provided details of the ligature and other safety risks in the Trust. He resigned when the Exec Board batted these concerns away like a sleepy bluebottle caught up in a boring meeting room on a hot summer’s day.

He identified 21 long telephone wires across Sloven in-patient provision. The replacement cost for each was £55.

“£1100…” spluttered Lord Justice Stuart-Smith. Yes. £1100 to reduce the risk of serious harm to patients and prevent TJ’s death.

As Bernard* spoke Broughton sitting on the Sloven bench looked devastated. This was in contrast to LB’s inquest when the Sloven team gleefully treated the process like a game of  Top Trumps.

Roger Colvin chose to read his victim statement to the court. This isn’t always allowed apparently but Lord J said yes and we heard him describe his family’s devastation at her death and the carelessness that surrounded it.

The packed public gallery was silent.

Connor

Connor’s case began on Monday afternoon and carried over to Tuesday. The same detail we know inside out but with a health and safety focus. It was heartbreaking to again hear how appallingly Connor was failed and how easily preventable his death was. The overlap between his and TJ’s deaths were grotesque.

In an unexpected move Bernard T detailed my interactions with the Trust ending with this:

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I can’t describe how – I don’t have the words here… powerful? Moving? – it was to hear this said in court. Bernard effectively produced a balm for the raw guilt I continue to drag around.  I hadn’t realised what having ‘your day in court’ could mean.

The defence and dirty dealings

The Trust accepted pretty much the whole of the HSE case. The defence won’t take long I naively thought. We’d been prepared that this section would be pretty unsavoury and it was. It was basically about dosh and reducing how much the trust would be fined.

“Every pound fined is a pound less available for future patient care…”

Of course.

There’s a one third ‘discount’ (I know) in place because it’s a public sector body. Fair enough. But given the thousands racked up by Sloven on legal fees to destroy families, paying mates £3m for shonky viral training and rewarding Percy with a £200k + pay off, the arguments presented were foul to sit through.

The defence barrister proceeded to do a ‘I’m sorry but…’ type number as he undermined Broughton’s ‘fair cop’ position with some dirty little dealings. These included the argument that the coroner had found no systemic failings at TJ’s inquest.

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We saw in the earlier link to TJ’s inquest coverage that her family were deeply disappointed with the coroner’s lacklustre engagement with what happened. The same coroner presided over numerous inquests relating to Sloven without, ironically, finding any systemic failings. A cracking example of how coroners may be ‘best placed’ but may still do a crap job.

The barrister also seemed to suggest that the observation levels for TJ were adequate and the Judge should differentiate between her case and Connor’s in his decision on fine amount. The HSE case was a careful compilation of layers of failings with pivotal chronological points at which the Trust should have acted and didn’t. Trying to pick away at what happened to TJ was unnecessary and cruel for her family to listen to. The point had earlier been made that criminal prosecutions are a very last step for the HSE.

The barrister moved onto the individual responsibility of staff members again trying to  introduce some wriggle room into the hitherto accepted systemic failings pot. Then in an unexpected move mother blame was back on the table.

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Setting aside the fact Murphy’s performance was found to be woeful rather than ‘wanting’ there was no reflection that Sloven’s failure to refer Murphy was further evidence of how shite they were. Instead he tried to weave a further vexatious mother thread taking the shine off the apparently heartfelt declarations in Broughton’s statement.

That’s where we’re at really. Evidence is now done. No more nasties for us to hear (I hope). Sentencing judgement on Monday.

Finally a few thanks…

We’re in awe of Bernard and the HSE team who were meticulous and thorough in their investigation and case building. They were also kind, humane and sensitive throughout.

Thanks to everyone who pitched up from all over (and those who followed the hearing on twitter). The judge could not have failed to be moved by such a strong collective showing on both days demonstrating that TJ, Connor and all the other people who have died preventable deaths in careless, inhumane settings count.

Finally thanks to the Witness service at Oxford Crown Court. I was a bit bowled over having a bespoke person take good care of us during the hearing.

*Apologies if first name is not appropriate here.

Light and the fatberg ingredients

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Crumbs. I’m feeling brighter. I’d anticipated a plummet to rock bottom land in the lead up to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sentencing hearing next Monday and Tuesday. A month after the MPTS sanction decision for Valerie Murphy. Two years after LB’s two week inquest. Five years to the day we took him to the STATT unit that cold, dark Tuesday evening on March 19 2013 [howl].

Other than the odd trip to London or Oxford I’ve been hanging out in the Justice shed for weeks. Crocheting.

A recognisable blanket of brightly coloured granny squares has emerged (will add a picture in the morning when it’s daylight). Griefcast has become my (late to the party) go to soundtrack. The (sometimes) humorous reflections of death and grief by comedians has been a gentle and soothing backdrop to the wool action.

I feel brighter.

Tom and I did a news interview this morning in advance of next weeks hearing. In our kitchen. The setting for numerous recordings over the last five years.

Doors have since fallen off cupboards and and half arsed drawer fronts carefully propped up. In preparation for the visit I did a bit of cleaning this morning.

“Mum! It smells really funny down here!” shouted Tom while I was upstairs getting out of my crochet uniform of grey tracky bottoms and a worn out old woolly red jumper.

“Ah I chucked a load of bleach down the sink. It might be that!” I replied. Visions of some right old ripe and until now undisturbed fatberg ingredients fighting back in the u-bend.

We ended up talking about five years of campaigning. Five years. Five of Tom’s seven teenage years. Pretty much the first five of Rosie, Will and Owen’s adult years. Half a decade. Half a decade of repeatedly poring over the hideous and distressing details surrounding LB’s death. Over and over and over again.

Of being blamed and vilified. Of persistent fat berg ingredients.

The interview was unexpectedly positive. There are no more nasties to come. No more bundle pages to turn over and ‘go to’.  No more oaths to swear. No more vicious counsels to face. We’re part of the audience for the hearing next week. And Sloven have pleaded guilty.

Tom made a comment at the end of the interview about the style of the campaign; the humour, creativity and fun. He was spot on.We’ve collectively written, blogged, spoken, tweeted, live-tweeted, presented, met, challenged, shouted, scrutinised, counted, drawn, produced, filmed, sung, shared, kayaked, run, walked, danced, travelled, stitched, photographed, baked, drunk, laughed, cried, wept, hugged, raged and laughed more.

Whatever happens next week we’ve done LB and all the other dudes proud.

Light.

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Under giant trees…

I don’t blog much any more. I’m off work. I don’t have the concentration to do much more than play candycrush, sort through stuff and graze social media. I’ve become a half arsed, flakey version of a Stepford Wife. Rich gritting his teeth when I brightly suggest that if we wipe the top of the cooker daily it will remain clean.

My days are strangely unfilled with little and so much. 

I listen to this, over and over again.

Haunting and magical particularly from 3.16.

Richard Handley’s inquest has been live tweeted this week (@Handleyinquest). A cheeky chappy surrounded by love and a family effectively excluded from the work sadly needed to keep him alive. A tale of barbaric and inhumane failings.

The overlap with Connor’s inquest is harrowing. Blame shifting, lies and an absence of remorse. Richard’s mother brutally and unnecessarily questioned at length.

I bought a bag of wool and crochet hooks. I need to learn to hold, hook, turn and gently pull through wool though woollen hoops and loops. I’m watching a ‘crochet for beginners (left handed)’ youtube film. It takes practice apparently but the basics are clear:

“Move your crochet hook under and over the yarn, and then pull it through.”

I do this. Listening to Under giant trees.

‘Always make sure patients with epilepsy are within sight or sound when bathing.’

‘Make sure Richard has a healthy diet (plenty of fibre) and monitor bowel movements…’

Under, over and through.

Clear and simple instructions.

Giant trees. 3.16 is the best bit.

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).