Monthly Archives: September 2014

On Smiling Villains and Beacons of Hope

Life’s lessons 11 on Betrayal, Hope and Staying Sane

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I always knew that people you loved died. My mother kept one photo by her bedside, the one of a beautiful child I never knew, the sister who died of meningitis before I was born.

I suppose I came into the world in a bid to take away some of that pain.  I certainly provided a bit of noise and distraction. I was never an obedient or obliging child. At the very least I must have tormented my grieving family in such a variety of ways, that they were diverted from dwelling on their sorrow.

In those days you didn’t talk about things. You just got on with it. I don’t know whether it was better or worse. 

When my father died suddenly I remember the teacher who drove me home saying gruffly “Well, I don’t envy you the next days, but we all have to go through it, sooner or later.” I didn’t need him to say more. I knew his words were kind. He was a good man and he had been through the war.

But now, coming towards the end of life, I think that sudden death is not the worst thing to bear. The hardest thing to carry with you, the hurt that defies healing, the lasting bitterness that weighs you down and oppresses your spirit, is betrayal.

So often in the posts related to Justice for LB you hear that pain expressed – that people, who should have cared or protected, betrayed the trust placed in them. They then multiplied the hurt of that betrayal by lying and denying their actions.

Grief, allowed to take its natural course, becomes liveable with in time. It is something we all have to face, like my old teacher said, and in one way or another we muddle our way through to a bearable sadness.

But the cruelty of having to struggle against the odds to establish the truth of a neglectful, untimely, preventable death removes the opportunity to come to terms with loss, obstructs the channels of regaining joy in life.

That the NHS, the service that once shone like a beacon in a naughty world, should be the monster we have to fight, is the grossest betrayal.

Yet somehow this fighting has to be done without losing our sanity. We have to be able to find courage for the battle and believe that we will achieve peace of mind in the end.

Sara has to talk to the Chair this afternoon. We wish her strength and discernment. He may well be a decent man lost in the mire of corporate spin.  He is trapped, restricted in what he can possibly say, but he deserves the chance to act for the good. Sara is giving him that opportunity. Let us pray he is brave enough to take it.

Nowadays I always speak to the people trapped in call centres as human beings. I say to them “Look, I know you have to say these things and it’s not your fault, but this is the help I need.”

It’s surprising how people can act well, when their humanity and the reality of their situation is recognised. Fortunately psychopaths are in the minority, even if it doesn’t always seem so these days.

When my first email account was hacked, I set up another Yahoo account and emailed the hacker at my own address. I explained I was an old lady who hardly went anywhere and that nobody would ever believe I was trapped in Lagos and needed £2000 to get home, so I would be really grateful if I could have my contacts back.

From some distant corner of the developing world he emailed me back to say he was really sorry. He was ashamed of what he was doing but he did the job to fund his way through college as he had no sponsor.

He sent me back my account.

On Injustice, Exhaustion and Tough Love

Life’s lessons 10:  Hard choices for hard times
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I used to think that, if people only knew about something going badly wrong, they would mobilise against it.

But I grew up under the lingering influence of World War 2. We were the brave little island that had held out against the evils of fascism and set up free universal secondary education and a National Health Service. We were the dragon-slayers.  We were the good guys.

Postwar childhood games, played out on overgrown bomb sites, always involved shooting down the bad guys to emerge victorious.

It took me a very long time to realise that knowledge alone doesn’t stop bad things happening. You need courage, spirit and commitment to confront monsters.

After reading Kara2008 (whobyf1re.wordpress.com) this morning I got to thinking about LB and all the others killed or damaged by health professionals in one way or another. I’d bet each one of us has experience of family, a friend or colleague affected. There is a stack of anecdotal evidence around. There is research evidence too. Think of the data circulated to hospital trusts about death rates. Think of the number of civil cases instituted against them.

We all know at every level that something is badly, systemically wrong and also that nobody, apart from a handful of lowly scapegoats, has been called to account.

As a teacher I had to call various culprits to account.  I remember one stubborn, little red-haired toughie, who had stolen some money from my purse. I usually kept it locked in my filing cabinet but I had been called out of my office suddenly and hadn’t stopped to turn the key.

I saw the set of her jowl and knew it was pointless to rage or accuse. The evidence was incontrovertible, but she would never back down. Then my anger and frustration lifted. I felt very sad for both of us. I asked her to imagine that she had done it. We would think about it as a purely hypothetical situation and consider the possible outcomes.

I can’t remember the detail, but at one point she protested that if she was able to walk away uncondemned, nobody would know anything bad about her.

“But that’s not true, is it?” I pointed out. “Somebody would know, wouldn’t they? Think about it!”

She thought.  “I would know,” she said at last.

And that was the thing that mattered most. Not the money. Not the punishment. Not her admitting anything. It was her looking honestly at herself and deciding what path she wanted to walk down. Did she want live a life based on feeling clever and pleased with herself for doing somebody else down and getting away with it? It was her choice to make. 

And, this morning, it seemed to me that, at an individual and systemic level, the NHS has reached a similar point.

For a range of reasons, individuals collaborate or collude with bad practice and organisations block or stifle concerns, protests and avoid the investigation of incidents.

Yet I can’t believe that the majority of workers in the system are happy about it. I can’t believe that the majority of managers are workplace psychopaths. I can’t even believe that the majority of elected representatives in the Commons are smugly complacent about it.

So why is it happening? 

I said at the start that you need strength, spirit and commitment to change bad things and it is clear that many within the system are too worn down to do it on their own. There are outstanding pockets of good practice, scattered examples of excellence, honourable individual practitioners, but as a whole the NHS is failing.

We have to help it envisage the way ahead, not just as a financial and organisational spreadsheet, but as a moral choice. Who really wants a shoddy, showy business, lacking integrity, getting away with minimum standards by the skin of its legal teeth?

We on the receiving end have already tried to highlight the need for an honest look at realities, rather than spin.

We’ve tried “consulting” nicely and so far it hasn’t worked.

I fear it is going to take a conviction for corporate manslaughter to strengthen the good guys, inside and outside the system.

In the sixty odd years from post war optimism and good intentions, it has come to this.

It should make us all very sad.

Then we should look at LB’s quilt and commit ourselves anew.
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