I’ve been involved with the JusticeforLB campaign now for over six months, a number of people who work in communications roles, especially in the NHS, have been in touch in that time to say how useful this campaign has been for their learning, indeed one person described Southern Health’s behaviour as the ugly, of the good, the bad and the ugly of #NHSSM. Enough said. There have been many many times when I’ve been astounded at what I’ve heard, seen or read, I offer this to help with yet more learning. Last night Sara published a letter from Katrina Percy, the CEO of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, the trust responsible for Connor’s ‘care’ at the time of his preventable death. The chronology of this is as follows:
NHS Leadership Academy published Leadership: When the going gets tough sharing Katrina’s experience of leading in challenging times [I will refrain from offering commentary or opinion on that piece but suggest you read it]
Sara published Dear Katrina Percy in response, welcoming Katrina’s new commitment to transparency and openness with 16 questions relating to her son’s care and death
In the context of Board minutes being clear that the Chairman suggested all staff should stop pressuring Sara to meet Katrina, as she did not wish to do so [obviously that instruction didn’t get as far as the comms team).
Then silence until the reply. You can read it on Sara’s blog, Katrina Percy. The Reply I’m not going to include it here in full because there’s more than two pages of what I’ve come to realise is self-promoting, narcissistic leadership and dire PR speak. So I’m going to deconstruct some of it below, sort of interpretation and learning points from my perspective as an interested observer.
‘As you will have read, I believe one of the hallmarks of good leadership is a commitment to as much openness and transparency as can be provided within the context of providing health and care services to often vulnerable people, their families and carers in sometimes deeply challenging circumstances’.
‘As you will have read‘ is surplus to requirements and included simply to try and introduce a framing of KP’s knowledge as something that Sara should be deferential to.
‘I believe’ the first of many, you could argue this is a personal language, or you could consider it to be coming from a place of ego and belief that the authors position is of prime importance.
‘one of the hallmarks‘ so suddenly it’s not all about transparency and openness (it was in the article that initiated this exchange), suddenly it’s conditional and of lesser importance than initially suggested
‘a commitment to…’ not actually being open and transparent but committing to it, you know we have it on our intranet but no-one has to do it sort of thing
‘as much openness and transparency as can be provided…’ here we get another conditional clause, silly Sara, pesky of you to take us at our word, you obviously don’t understand the complexity of our working environment
‘often vulnerable people….in sometimes deeply challenging circumstances’ Really? This is in there? Did whoever wrote this not recognise the irony of informing Sara of this? Her son died, in their care, a preventable death, really you think she doesn’t live, breathe and grieve in challenging circumstances?
‘I also strongly believe that good leadership is founded on a determination and deep commitment to do what is right for all parties concerned, not necessarily what might be either easiest or most popular at any particular moment in time or demanded more loudly or persistently by one group or interest than another – no matter how strongly their views are held or how often they are repeated’.
‘determination and deep commitment’ to assert your own truth and belief of what is right in a situation. Subtext I know my view and I’m top of this tree so what I say goes, even to the facing of a grieving parent.
‘all parties concerned’ ohhh right, all parties, we’ll not be explicit about that, but as much as I’m all for equality and justice, I don’t think all parties in this situation have an equal footing, some of those parties are responsible for a young man’s death…
‘easiest or most popular‘ this astounds me, quite clearly this letter has been through multiple draftings, experts, members sign off – but somehow this reference to what is easy or popular remains. What happened to compassion and candour? Instead of somehow worrying about the impact on herself, ‘her staff’ and closing her ears to public opinion, has she once considered why something may be viewed as popular, has it ever entered her head that the popular opinion may be right, and her’s wrong?
‘more loudly or persistently’ really can’t imagine what this refers to, unless of course it’s these pesky online supporters who have gathered around Sara and Connor’s case, demanding better.
‘I am deeply proud to lead Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and the around 9,000 dedicated people who devote their working lives to caring for and supporting their fellow human beings. The thousands of staff I lead do very many things brilliantly and I am always keen to support and promote them wherever and whenever they do. Some other things we do reasonably well and we are always looking to work with our staff and partners, service users and their families and carers, stakeholders and regulators to improve in those areas to match the best’
Phew, where to start with this paragraph. Think it reads clearly as for internal benefit, there are some soundbites here that will be recycled into staff briefings and slide sets and internal reports no doubt.
‘deeply proud to lead…’ yep, I’d hope so, that’s what your six figure salary is for (£165k rising to £225k if you include pension payments). When KP communicates she seemingly always manages to make it personal and never manages to acknowledge that all is not equal. Sara is a grieving parent, trying to find answers about her son’s death, with a grieving devastated family, her own job and life….this is KP’s job. They are not equals.
‘devote their working lives’ wowwww there. We’re not talking about callings or vocations, we’re talking about staff members paid to provide a service. I’m not doubting some are dedicated but this isn’t about devotion, it’s about standards of care and quality.
‘do very many things brilliantly’ Seriously? In paragraph three, we’re brilliant, what is your fuss about, we have thousands of brilliant staff providing brilliant support….we’ve little evidence of this, CQC and Monitor repeatedly find otherwise, but we’re brilliant, I say so, how dare you challenge us?
Even if we acknowledge that this is true, and Sara has been explicit since day one that there must be brilliant caring staff, indeed if you read the independent report that found Connor’s death was preventable you can see there were some brilliant staff, seemingly working in a vortex and vacuum of good leadership, brilliant against the odds, not as a matter of KP’s leadership. So if we take this statement as true. Connor still died, in their care, a preventable death….so to rub a grieving families nose in their brilliance just seems beyond comprehensible. Is it deliberately done to cause further pain?
‘reasonably well’ is then introduced, reasonably well. Surely not. Then the notion that services users, families and carers should want to work with them to make things better, to improve things. Is KP going to share her salary around to ensure those people are remunerated for their time and effort then? As for wanting to learn, Sara has been sharing her thoughts and ideas for years on her blog. She knows from FOI and personal records requested that her blog has been discussed by staff in Southern Health, so one would think this would be an appropriate time to acknowledge it and share gratitude for that? No, oops, moving on….
This is the first three paragraphs, I’ll leave you to read the rest and will revisit later if I have time or inclination. If you work in NHS Communications and you’d ever dream of sending a letter like this, please please please think again. Thank you.