A couple of weeks ago I watched a documentary on Barack Obama’s time as President of the USA. I was in the US when he was elected and wrote about the power of hope and optimism on my personal blog as he campaigned for re-election four years later (as Dad was dying). The documentary clearly showed how much of Obama’s optimism, values and ideas were compromised and stalled during his time in the White House.
On re-election this is what he had to say:
Tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future. I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the road blocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.
Watching that documentary, having watched the events unfold at Hillsborough this past couple of weeks, I had reconnected with hope. I had started to believe that however long it takes, things could improve, we could get #JusticeforLB and some smattering of accountability, and actually start building a new brighter future where learning disabled people are as valued as anyone else. When Max Neill died on that extra special leap year day at the end of February, I took great comfort from his words at the end of last year. I’ve revisited them often:
Yet sometimes it feels like we’re carrying our hope in a bucket with a hole in it.
Whenever some new grounds for optimism land in the top, some more hope falls out the bottom. There are buckets and buckets of evidence about what went wrong at Southern Health – internal reports, Verita reports, Mazars reports, CQC reports, Monitor conditions on licence, ignored Health and Safety reports, Board minutes, action plans, NHS Improvement interventions.
In the last month alone there has been another CQC report showing not enough progress and a BBC News report where unbelievably Dr Lesley Stephens admitted that a patient under section (that is detained by law for their own, or others safety) had left a unit unnoticed and made it to France before the Police caught up with them and returned them, only for them to go missing again. This patient is currently still missing. They have been lost by Southern Health no less than three times. They are a danger to themselves, and/or to others.
There have also been Politicians calling for resignations, CQC making it crystal clear that the Board are failing, on top of Mazars making it crystal clear the Board are failing. Then last week Sara received a voicemail from a member of Southern Health staff (their own admission) calling her a vindictive, attention seeking cow (you can listen to it here). It’s not hard to see where staff got that impression from, Southern Health Board spent £42k alone last year trying to deny the Mazars report. They failed, no-one fell for it, but this is a culture of denial and blame like no other.
Also last week Tom, LB’s younger brother, wrote a cracking blog post that touches on what it feels like when your brother dies a preventable death and the NHS fights it, not the tiniest whiff of candour, and the impact that has. He says:
The way that Southern Health has treated my family has shown how complacent they are with being rubbish. They treat my family as a problem that they need to be rid of, instead of engaging with us and actually making a better care system. Given the option I feel they would rather get rid of my parents and keep things rubbish than actually put any work in to change things and provide a good service.
I can watch the chief executive Katrina Percy say she’s “really, really sorry” like some five year old who broke a plate, countless times, but what I haven’t seen once in the last three years is actual evidence of change for the better, or even just an attempt to engage and listen to families.
Listening to families should be such an obvious part of providing care for someone’s son, daughter, sister, brother. We are their family, we aren’t going to try to cause harm or be problematic.
Last week NHS Improvement appointed Tim Smart as the new Chair at Southern Health. He is the Chair of the Board and the Chair of the Governors. His welcome message is here – it impressed me, he mentioned patients three times (a welcome change of focus)!
Then last night the agenda for the Extraordinary Governors Meeting was published online. This meeting was called to discuss a vote of non-confidence in the CEO and the Board. It was advertised with less than a week’s notice and no papers have been made available (both in contradiction to Southern Health’s own constitution). The focus on non-confidence isn’t really clear from the agenda which reads a little more like a primary school show and tell session, with lots of observations from various people (five in total) even though three of them have been in post less than a month (the Chair, the Improvement Director, and the Director of Nursing). Maybe observations aren’t a bad place to start, those people have fresh eyes, however the lack of focus on the reason for the meeting, a discussion of non-confidence in the Board is worrying.
There are no observations from the public or those subjected to Southern Health’s poor performance and given there are 9 agenda items before questions from the public, and an hour for the entire meeting, useful engagement and discussion feels like a pipe dream. In an unusual step for the Governors meeting a Part 2 agenda item is included – to vote on papers, which aren’t publicly available. How the Governors are meant to be able to represent a public, who can’t access the papers is another mystery to me.
Last night in the Justice Shed our hope bucket emptied out again. We’re resilient types and continually scratch around for new fuel for our optimism, and Peter Bell’s post on LinkedIn this morning certainly helped, he is a new Governor and proposing six resolutions for discussion including a vote of non-confidence in the Trust leadership.
Tom talked in his blog post about being a naive 13 year old and believing people would do the right thing and sort things out. I’m twenty years older than Tom and believed the same thing. You see that’s the problem when you want (to believe in) better. Not blind optimism or wishful idealism, but the hope Obama talks about:
I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.