I feel I should start this post with a disclaimer, I spent my entire childhood being reminded that I should stop and think before I spoke! Never one for subtlety, it really was a hard won skill to not just want to blurt out the first thoughts that came into my head, to fill the silence or please the person asking (thinking having an answer or opinion was better than not and totally missing that what you said was often as important as the speed of your response)! I thought that those days of working hard to avoid offence were in the past until the last year or so, where I’ve found myself fighting hard to remain silent just long enough to think about the impact of what I say (and maybe tone it down, or not say it at all, or reframe my thinking).
The combination of campaigning for #JusticeforLB, the horrors that has uncovered and the liberating tools of social media (to be heard even when your view is not popular or sometimes invited) have proved a heady mix. Throughout the campaign we have worked incredibly hard to not pain or cause offence to individual’s, to focus on the collective failings and improvements required, and to avoid personalising our frustration and anger. The only exception to this has been occasional digs at those at the very top of the leadership tree, the CEO of the Trust responsible for LB’s preventable death (Southern Health NHS FT), the Chair of the Board, the Director of Social Services at Oxfordshire County Council. To be honest I think it comes with the territory in one of these roles, and even then we’ve held back more than you can imagine!!
Just last week Sara was told that she was not playing nicely, like that somehow excuses the dire inhumane treatment of these organisations and the staff within them:
I’m not sure I’ve seen the Debrett’s guidance on how the parents of children who die preventable deaths at the hands of the NHS (commissioned by social care) should behave. I almost can’t comprehend the arrogance behind someone in a position of authority behaving in such a way….yet we see it again and again and again.
Yesterday this article by Andy Barr was shared with me a few times: Not just a PR failure, but a failure to be human: How Thomas Cook got its Corfu response badly wrong. The article suggests that Thomas Cook have failed, not so much in their public relations, but in being a decent human being. There are many, many parallels between the response of Thomas Cook and Southern Health that have been drawn to our attention over the past week, Andy warns that ‘The business consequences, in this case being a reputation that is in tatters, are that sales will take a nose-dive this year and that Thomas Cook will become a case-study for corporate reputation mishandling for years to come’.
Southern Health and Oxfordshire County Council are walking straight down Thomas Cook’s path, with a few additional ‘highlights’ (read lowlights) thrown in for good measure. There is very little, if any, evidence that they would meet the benchmark for Human 101. This inhumanity must eventually seep to the very core of the organisations that these people lead, although that said we have had a number of people contact us since the campaign started to share how hard it is to work in these organisations, how ashamed they are by their performance and their ongoing behaviour. Behaviour which if we’re honest is tactical to try and break a grieving family so that they disappear, sooner rather than later, so they can repair their flailing reputations.
On Monday, at the truly wondrous Sparrowhawk Art Exhibition at #LALOPEN in Lancaster (you can still see it until Saturday and there’s a community day then too), there was a panel discussion about the campaign so far. In the discussion that followed I found myself welling up, the downside of containing my anger, frustration and disappointment (principally at the incredibly absent voices of social work and social care in the #JusticeforLB campaign – my mates, keeping their heads down) and generally trying to be a reasonable person for the past year meant that when an audience member expressed her shame, I found myself a bit emotional:
There are great social workers doing great things but all social workers should be doing great things.
Fast forward 24hrs and there was a stark contrast between that humanity, awareness, joy and solidarity on display at Lancaster and the clinical bureaucracy of the third pre-inquest review meeting held yesterday. You can read Sara’s thought on it here. All I’d like to add to those are the communications on offer from Southern Health on the day. In the spirit of candour, transparency and learning lessons the #JusticeforLB campaign account is blocked by Southern Health on twitter, but luckily some of the rest of the movement aren’t.
I’d like to draw your attention to this tweet from Chris Hatton:
The tweet from Southern Health was sent yesterday, Tuesday 19th May, at the same time as the pre-inquest review meeting, into the preventable death of LB, advertising an event that had taken place the previous Saturday. There was no care or attention to this tweet, it seems there rarely is care and attention. There’s very little human on offer here – if you were a parent who knew the pain of ‘losing a child’ (whether that’s a preventable loss or not), I’m not sure how you’d feel if you’d hoped to attend and then found out the event had past, or worse if you were the parent who is living the pain of grief, made worse by the inhuman systems at play.
I’m confident that the tweeter was ignorant to the timing; even I cannot conceive that this was deliberate, however, I’d like to think if an NHS Trust was involved in an inquest process (especially one this contentious and this public) that their communications team know about it, and are hyper aware of the pain and damage they might cause.
I really feel that its time those at Southern Health NHS FT and Oxfordshire County Council reconnected with their inner human, owned their mistakes, took responsibility, shared updates internally to prevent any further harm being caused, and stopped and thought before they spoke or tweeted.
Please, be human about it.