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?

 

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).

Some right things and a humility glug

Hoping to head off ‘witch hunt’ commentators and silent but disgruntled medics I sense may be lurking. Valerie Murphy has had numerous opportunities to ‘do the right thing’ over the last four and a half years. Right things and responsibilities. Below is a list of suggested right things based on my observations and experience of the GMC process.

Right things

(a) The early days

  • Say sorry. Your actions may or may not have contributed to what happened but just say sorry. Someone has died. [As a bit of an aside, a key thread running through this interminable process has been the importance of demonstrating remorse and insight. This can only start with with a genuine apology.]
  • Welcome a full and frank investigation into what happened and contribute to it openly and honestly.
  • Scrutinise your professional practice and involve a range of colleagues and others to help think through and understand what happened and why, and how it might be avoided in the future.

(b) Across the investigatory process

  • Avoid trying to cast blame elsewhere.
  • Be transparent, open and honest. Don’t, for example, ‘save’ information like an earlier death to share in a particular setting at a particular time.
  • You have a set of duties to adhere to. Try not to get sucked into shite practices that may be demonstrated by the Trust executive board or others.

(c) Interactions with your counsel

  • Instruct your barrister to treat everyone involved with respect and sensitivity.
  • Take ownership of your position and role in the investigatory process. If, for example, your barrister begins to ask unnecessary or distressing questions of a witness, tap her on the arm and close it down.
  • If something in the evidence upsets you, try and suck it up. The process should enable embellishments and more to be exposed. You don’t need to have your upset recorded.

During the tribunal

  • If particular issues or concerns with your professional practice are highlighted, work out appropriate ways to demonstrate you’ve improved them. Ask for help if you are unsure how to approach this.
  • Try, as much as is humanly possible, to turn up to every day of the hearing.
  • Think carefully about who you ask to be a character witness and make sure they are properly briefed about the importance of this and what is expected of them.

A final reflection is the professional arrogance medics can exhibit. I witnessed this on twitter this week when a discussion effectively ended with non-NHS commentators being dismissed as ‘armchair critics who wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the NHS’. I don’t know at what stage in the education or experience of being a medic this arrogance kicks in (I ain’t a medic). But I do wonder if a glug or two of humility is a good tonic every so often.

 

The waiting game… again

We heard today the GMC tribunal panel will continue their deliberations in camera (privately) on Saturday and have ‘released all parties’ until 2pm on Sunday. The parties are the GMC legal representation, Valerie Murphy and her barrister, Partridge and, I assume, the public. The 2pm deadline doesn’t mean a determination will be given then as to Murphy’s impairment (or otherwise). It means it won’t be before then.

We’ve been warned the hearing may involve further dates yet to be set.

This hearing was originally scheduled for two weeks in the middle of August. Obliterating any summer thoughts or plans. It over ran and involved an inhumane and unnecessary cross examination which has, I suspect, left long lasting mental ill health shite. Harm caused in the process of trying to ‘objectively’ establish whether a person given a special key to count as a ‘medical professional’ is actually worthy of being a key holder. There is no apparent consideration for non key holders.

On Sunday we listened to a ‘defence’ which involved an absent ‘Murphy, a touting of patient records in a travelling suitcase (which sent alarm bells ringing among even the most resistant information governance ears) and a character witness worthy of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Among copious tears, I felt an odd fondness remembering Butch. Life seemed so simple then.

Connor died in 2013. Murphy denied any wrong doing until the GMC case was well established in 2016. She spent three years denying and deflecting blame. This weekend we heard, via her barrister, about her recent ‘brain child’, her ‘contribution to the profession’; a speedily produced poster published (unusually with her husband) about a yellow card system. 

I think (hope) we ain’t beyond the realm of reasonable in the justice shed. If Murphy had behaved differently at any point in the last 4.5 years, I hope we’d have found it in ourselves to give her ‘a go’. And if we couldn’t, I hope a close mate, relative or colleague would have nudged us to do so. During the train journey to Manchester in August to attend the tribunal, Rich and I reflected at length on the apology we thought I’d been called as a witness to receive from Murphy.

There was no apology. Just a no show. Like she didn’t turn up for her second day of giving evidence at Connor’s inquest, instead appearing by video link and expressing disgruntlement at having to return after a lunch break.

George Julian live tweeted the tribunal parts that were public this weekend. She felt it went too fast to catch the comprehensiveness of the GMC case presented. She wasn’t able to convey how the overarching objective of the GMC was failed individually and cumulatively.

There are no words to describe, explain, capture what this slow drip drip feed of the ‘processes’ around the preventable death of your beautiful and beyond loved child by a combination of something described as ‘health and social care’ is like to experience.

The GMC have kept us consistently kept us informed which is good. Dunno what else to say really. Other than what a pile of shitfuckerywankmarbles.

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.]

‘It was found that…’ A reflection on grief spaces

The General Medical Council (GMC) tribunal examining Valerie Murphy’s fitness to practice starts again tomorrow. Monday. And next weekend. Next Saturday and Sunday. And two more days possibly still to schedule. The findings so far are summarised here:

During the August hearing I was cross-examined by Murphy’s barrister. He said the way I described her in my witness statement upset her. We aren’t allowed to read her statement. We’ve no idea what she’s said. About LB. About what happened. About anything.

I was unwell after that hearing. Having just about managed to duck and dive the  traumatic, unexpected and preventable death cloak over four years, the calculated and deliberate questioning/non-questioning (and giant arch lever file action) by the barrister floored me.

Anxiety, panic attacks. Distraction, agitation, worry and more anxiety.

I worked today. I often work weekends but this was in anticipation of possibly becoming unwell again. And the late realisation it will be impossible to work on Monday (possibly Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…)

I was talking to someone recently about how NHS investigatory processes interfere with or even obliterate grief spaces. Spaces people have a right to inhabit after the death of a loved one. About how the ‘National Health Service’ generates further harm with little apparent thought. Even glee. [The slightly hysterical briefing to the then CEO of NHS England about how #JusticeforLB campaigners were hacking into Sloven staff Twitter accounts springs to mind…]

I thought about these spaces during my recent trip to Canada and the US when I experienced unexpected and breathtaking waves of intense and deep sadness. I don’t know if the lengthy bus and train journeys were a mechanism to re-enable grief thoughts. Or the space itself.

The determination of facts can be read here. George Julian will be live-tweeting tomorrow and Monday. A remarkable open justice service you can follow here.

Here’s to ‘finding’ sense. And space.

The Percy Problem?

Oh my. A piece in the Mail on Sunday* today about Katrina Percy, former Sloven CEO, touting leadership expertise on LinkedIn.  During twitter exchanges across the day I was bounced back to exchanges around our referral of Percy to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for investigation under the Fit and Proper Person Regulation (FPPR) back in the day.

A right old dogs dinner that spanned more than 18 months. Littered with a remarkable number of non-responses. Demonstration of the disregard and disrespect bereaved families can expect from the NHS and wider bodies. Brutal non-responses…

2015
17 March 15 We refer Katrina Percy for investigation.
[No response.] Please reply even if only to say you’ve received the email. Families are in a terrible, brutalised position. To ignore is to simply add a size 10 Doc Marten kick in the gut to the experience.
27 May 15 I tweet about this non-response. Andrea Sutcliffe steps in to mediate. Good for Andrea but it shouldn’t take a tweet and the potential for reputational damage to generate action.
29 May 15 An apology from Mike Richards, then Head of Inspection, for the delay in response.
1 June 15 A letter from Richards with the panel decision:
Richards bollox

No words.

2016
3 Jan 16 After publication of the Mazars review we ask the CQC to reconsider their decision.
[No response.] As above. I tweet and Andrea Sutcliffe again steps in to mediate This flags up some communication type issues that really need addressing.
1 Mar 16 Email from Mike Richards’ executive PA to say our referral is tabled for the FPPR management review meeting on 11 Mar 16 and we’ll hear after that.
‘Thank you’ I reply. The differential in power laid starkly by the ‘thank you’ emails.
31 Mar 16  Hello, I email… Again.  Is there any news? As above.
1 Apr 16  Email from Paul Lelliot (Deputy Chief Inspector for Mental Health) to say the Chair, PA and Mike Richards are on annual leave. We should hear soon. A holding email takes about 1 minute to write and send. There is no excuse to piss off on leave and not reply. 
4 Apr 16 The Chair replies:

The panel concluded that any further action should be considered once CQC had concluded our most recent review and have an understanding of the position of NHS Improvement in relation to the trust.

6 Apr 16 A warning notice (and no action) from the CQC is announced.
7 Apr 16 I email to ask what the CQC are going to do about Katrina Percy.
14 May 16 I chase up my email.
15 May 16 Apologies for not updating I’m told. We will provide an update shortly.
29 July 16 I email for an update. [Note we’re leaving gaps of 5/6 weeks before recontacting. The spectre of the vexatious family/mother ever present. This consideration is not even a whiff among CQC business. Kind of reminding me of a paper we wrote about the ringside seat autistic people can have to mainstream life with little or no reciprocated thought from mainstream society.]
29 July 16 An email response: they are waiting for Tim Smart’s review of board capability and governance.
22 Aug 16 I email to ask if there is any decision about FPPR.

No reply. They didn’t bother to reply. As above. With bells on.

Katrina Percy ‘stepped down’ at the end of September 2016.

2017

There are three criminal prosecutions against the Trust in 2017. All cover Percy’s period of ‘leadership’. The Health Service Journal awarded her a ‘CEO of the Year Award’ back in the day which features on her LinkedIn profile. This was, according to a HSJ journalist, awarded by an independent (non-HSJ) panel, nothing to do with the HSJ and ‘before the issues were known‘.

We all know the issues now. Many of us recognised them before weighty (bloated, worn out and toxic seeped and steeped) senior NHS (Improvement/England/CQC/Dept of Health figures) eventually stopped slumbering. We all now know.

There is no more pretence. No more shonky little (and big) practices covering up, denying, bullying, bouncing and battering blame onto bereaved families.

The questions that whizzle around our brains/discussion relentlessly (raised by all sorts of people we meet, bump into or who even pull over to talk to us on the street)… Questions any sensible, non-NHS befuddled (at best) person asks and continues to ask remain unanswered. Not least how the hell could any of this happen? 

I don’t know if I want to ever know the answer/s to this. I just hope that those senior bods who were, and continue to be implicated, take a long hard look at themselves. That they start to polish their murky and corrupt stained goggles. Set aside the lure of the rewards for not seeing, not listening and denying and breath in some fresh air.

You’ve been arsewipes of fuckwhattery proportions. There’s no doubt about this. There is also time to change.

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*Our experience of sensitive and thoughtful exchanges with journalists continued with Jonathan Bucks. Thank you.

Six days in Asturias

A last minute booking to try to escape the stain/strain of GMC tribunal horror. Rich had to stay at home to work. I got a return flight to Asturias for £107. Returning to the land of the Camino. A hotel in Oviedo booked for night one. The rest open to whim [or howl]. The forecast rain and cloud.

Thursday evening

At the airport, waiting for the Oviedo bus, I chatted to D. She was on her way to a Tai Chi course with a Spanish master. After 12 years of practice she was beginning to understand the inner workings involving her core. She also mended clocks.

She asked what I did for a job. 

“My mum told me I was diagnosed with High Functioning Aspergers when I was at school”, she said, when I told her. “I never looked it up or anything, I was just relieved to learn I was normal. I didn’t feel it at the time.”

M joined us. A recently retired economics teacher. She was going to spend a week volunteering on an immense course.

“Immense?” I said. “That sounds pretty important.”

“Immersion. Students of English immerse themselves in the language for a week with no Spanish spoken. It helps to cement learning.”

“I realised I talked all the time and didn’t listen,” said D. “On one of our retreats, someone said I wasn’t to talk for 24 hours. It made me realise that the quiet people, who I’d never even noticed before, spoke the most sense. The noisy ones I’d always engaged with said nothing.”

It was dark and raining in Oviedo. After some help from non English speaking locals, I found my hotel and checked into my room with a view. I felt like shite.

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Friday

The guy on reception enthusiastically scribbled on my map before I left to explore the city (of sculptures). With a final flourish of the biro he marked the Santa Maria de Naranco up on a hillside overlooking the city. I was to catch the A2 bus opposite the Campo de San Fransisco, two minutes from the hotel. The bus turned up straight away. I got on and said my destination. The driver didn’t understand me so I showed him the map. He shook his head and pointed to the bus stand behind me, making his fingers into a shape I think meant a letter rather than a rude gesture.

I got off and pointlessly studied the bus timetable written in Spanish for a few minutes.

Someone shouted. I turned round. Another bus driver asking where I wanted to go in Spanish (I think). 

I got the map out and pointed to the scribble. He nodded. The fare was €1.20. The church spectacular. I stayed a second night in the room with the view.

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Saturday

Early afternoon I was wandering around Cudillero, a dense and beautiful fishing town that tapered down the hillside into a harbour, with Alicia Wood and Henry Iles. Reminiscent of Portofino there were bustling restaurants serving seafood delights around the harbour front. Unlike Portofino, there were no designer shops, masses of tourists or fakery. Just a fishmonger, a vending machine or two, people’s smalls hanging on airers from windows in the narrowest alley ways and an enormous, damp smelling, dusty pink and blue flavoured church.

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We sat up into the early hours of the morning, eating traditional stew, drinking and putting the learning disability world to rights.

Sunday

A day trip to the Somiedo Nature Park with Alicia. A small beer in bear country before driving further into the mountains for a two part adventure. 

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Part One. Clear and detailed info from Alicia about what lay ahead. Eight kms of fairly hairy (pin bends) but doable driving. Passenger advice: don’t look right if you don’t like heights [I don’t]. We reached Valle de Lago, walked further into the mountains and had a picnic from the olden days, chatting about childhood books. Looking for bears.

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Part Two. No advice, just a creeping sense of horror as the road grew steeper and narrower. Small sections of wooden barriers with car sized holes appeared every so often. 

“There’s metal inside the wood. You can see where it’s snapped…” I said, leaning away from the window. As we ‘laughed’ hysterically.

Bend after bend, more broken fencing and the occasional oncoming car. We inched our way up the mountain road to a car park on top of the world. A mountain dog, torrential rain and extraordinary views. 

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After a soaking wet walk to a lake along a pink path worthy of a sci-fi film set we drove back down. With cattle for company.

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Monday

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I left Alicia and Henry and took the single track FEVE rail journey from Las Cabos to Gijon. Alone at first, I was joined along the 30 or so stops by a few Asturian locals. The odd set, perm and elaborately coiffed comb over. No chat. Just travel. Taking in idyllic hamlets, small towns, touching on bits of coast and the back end of industrial Aviles; apocalyptic, smoke belching ironworks and a hinterland of dust covered, unrecognisable landscape.

I was weepy for most of the day. An outcome of the extreme fear therapy we’d endured the day before? Or maybe it was because I was, unusually, able to think about Connor rather than GMC/NMC and other shite. I walked to La Madre del Emigrante (mother of the immigrant) sculpture we’d passed on the CaminoLB.

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Followed by dog and people watching.

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I had a room with two views in Gijon; the second window right above (and facing) this guy’s head. A second set of doors opened out onto the neighbouring square.

Tuesday

The sun shone and I felt brighter. The Gijonese were out in force and I did what they do. A march along the sea edge with my bag, a parade along the front, ice cream and book reading on the beach. 

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Ending the day with a cheerful and delicious final meal with Alicia and Henry. 

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This post is, in part, an unashamed plug for this strip of Northern Spain. An 80 minute flight to a land of delicious food, beautiful and varied scenery, warmth, rich hospitality and a wonderful way of life.

It’s also an account of easing into feeling human again.

Being (in)sane in insane places… in four parts

Part I

Waiting for the GMC tribunal to come back from ‘in camera’ (secret) discussion today. It’s impossible to do anything constructive. Wait. Mope about in bed. Play Candycrush. Clean the floor badly. Answer a few work emails. Pace around the house. Play Candycrush. Poke at weeds for a bit. Mope. Back to bed. Wait.

Agitate.

Part II

We’ve waited four years. But the events of last week make it impossible to concentrate. The cross-examination brutality, the revelation that this blog was causing anxiety among consultants before LB was admitted to the unit and other outlandish arguments by the doctor’s barrister, RP.

Including his bizarre claim he had no computer access to produce submissions for the Friday morning. In central Manchester… sitting next to a colleague with a laptop.

There was incredulity and practical info on twitter.

The next morning RP circulated a set of handwritten bullet points ‘not in narrative form’:

He later argued:

Not all of us are au fait with narrative… You have to find a computer first and then go into free text…

Oh my. Did he handwrite a set of bullet points (a day or so after deftly destroying me as a reliable witness) to demonstrate the point that computers aren’t necessary to do a good job as a consultant?

The day ended with this comment:

Part III

The GMC are keeping us informed about the timetable and process of this hideous process with thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

This is where we are at:

The panel are currently reviewing and considering the evidence given last week and need to agree the position on each charge that has not already been admitted and draft a full decision referring to the evidence, setting out their reasoning for each of the charges.  
 
The hearing will reconvene in public and the determination will be read out. Parties may need time to fully consider the determination then the hearing will move to the second stage. Further evidence can be called and submissions will be made on behalf of the GMC and the doctor in relation to whether the doctor is impaired. At this stage, the Tribunal meet alone again and need to make a decision on two matters: 1. whether the facts found proved are serious misconduct (the meaning of which is set out in various case law) and 2. if so, whether the doctor is impaired by reason of her misconduct.  It is not known how long it will take for the Tribunal to make this decision.
 
Depending on the Tribunal’s determination on impairment, the panel will consider the position of sanction. This would involve further submissions by both parties and another determination by the Tribunal.
Apparently the panel are unlikely to give a determination on the facts tomorrow.  The determination (the next step before the next stage) will likely now happen on Thursday. Coinciding with Tom’s A level results.
Part IV
This hearing has dominated the last few months for us. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) data sharing breach-too-far is bubbling on in the background. We’re less than four weeks from the Health and Safety Executive prosecution. We managed to polish off the personal impact statement yesterday, thank fuck. In less than a page.

You should include the fact you haven’t had a bath since LB died.” said Rosie. “And you loved them. I remember when we were little and we used to come in and chat to you. Sitting on the toilet…”

My definition of crap has taken such a battering I no longer have words for what we’re enduring.

We’ve been pushed into such an extreme space now that daily interaction with people is becoming difficult. Throwaway conversations in the street about the weather, summer holidays, dogs are hard to engage with. You can’t lay the shit storm we’ve been subjected to on any passerby or acquaintance. At the same time, saying, vacuously “Yeah, fine” is harder to say.

This led me to think about another layer to the campaign and social media activity; the sharing of rage, distress, incredulity and bafflement. The discussion and commentary. We know we wouldn’t have got ‘this far’ without social media. I hadn’t thought about how we would have personally been derailed months or years ago if we were experiencing this in isolation.

An hour into Mr P’s interrogation last Tuesday I was doubting myself.

It’s harder to doubt when so many others express sense, offer expertise (in any shape or form) and solidarity. And genuinely care.

 

The bleat action continuum

Over two years ago now I was writing about ground elder and the #LBBill. I’ve moved into the front garden recently, leaving the elder battle in kind of easy truce [I failed]. The front garden has tall ‘weeds’ with yellow tops which grow to middling head height every summer, leaving columns of snappable woody stems in the autumn.

Turns out these fuckers are worse than the ground elder. They have incredibly dense interconnected knotted lumps of a main root with shaggy swathes of stringy roots. Each one involves a hefty dig, more digging and almost full body wrestle to remove it from the ground. I can almost hear the earth breathing as they are lobbed into the brown bin.

Today we were due to hear the outcome of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) investigation into how they could possibly have shared personal details to the six nurses under investigation and their counsel.

Given the General Medical Council (GMC)* tribunal into Dr M’s fitness to practice starts on Monday in Manchester for two weeks and Rich and I are on extreme stress settings, I naively hoped that the NMC would be in touch early on in the day to limit the stress. We’ve had way too many 5-5.30pm Friday disclosures over the last four years.

The day dragged on. I punctuated work tasks with patches of root wrestling. Still nothing from the NMC. By 4pm I drifted onto twitter. It was impossible to concentrate. There was some discussion around what time we might expect to hear from the NMC and recognition that the Friday afternoon ‘disclosure dump’ is clearly modus operandi for public sector organisations with no heart or feeling. I resorted to tweeting the CEO about the cruelty of this delay.

The email pinged into my inbox. At the very outer edges of the allocated time.

Tip: Because you say an investigation is going to take x amount of days doesn’t mean the investigation has to take x amount of days. Focusing more attention on a complete balls-up to reduce the time the investigation takes and the accompanying stress for the family is the least you can do in a situation like this. Particularly if

  1. you had an additional 15 days between discovering the data breach and bothering to contact one of the four people affected.
  2. you have previously and publicly spent £250k redacting documents requested by another bereaved family in a breathtaking self protective act.

One of the numerous shite practices we’ve noticed over the past four years is the tendency for senior public sector staff to bleat ‘It was not our intention to do x, y or z’ despite doing it. Or ‘On reflection we should have done…’ when they didn’t.

What this really means is senior staff act with intent (and speed) when it involves their (organisational or own) reputation/skin and don’t when it doesn’t. The briefing on my blog circulated the day after LB died is an exemplar of this bleat action continuum.

The NMC letter outlined how sorting out the return of our personal data (first shared in November 2016) is shambolic. A mix of returned data, alleged destruction of data and outstanding information about copies made.

About as unreassuring as you could get.

And then, in a move not worthy of being written into a cheesy, made for tv movie, it turns out that after discovering the data breach in July 2017, they re- shared my personal details with three of the nurses. Yes, you read that correctly. Re-shared. Nine months after first carelessly tossing them around. But only [bleat] the same information (minus my bank details) to the same people…

There is nothing like heavy handed, dosh drenched redaction when it ain’t your reputation under threat. Nope. Nothing like it.

Fuckers.

*The GMC have been exemplary in the approach to this: clear, detailed information, communication and organisation.