Vacancy -Monster Fighting Change Agent Required

On “turning things round”

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Before Florence Nightingale, “nurses” enjoyed a deservedly dodgy reputation.  Dickens, always plugged into the popular culture of his time, knew what he was doing when he created the ghastly Mrs Gamp and her dreadful friend.

Caring is a role that brings with it a very dark side. It is dangerously easy to take advantage of the weak and the sick.  It is so simple to blackmail or terrorise them into silence and acquiescence. 

The vulnerable quickly learn that, to get even half decent treatment, you have to be “good”. And good is always defined by the care provider as giving your  “carer” an easy time.

It was bad enough in the past, with gin-sodden, slovenly Mrs Gamp, but now we seem to have created something even worse: a whole monstrous system which is based on not giving the care provider a hard time.

Whether it be the Hospital Trust or the Local Authority or the judgemental Social Work Department, we little people are blocked from attempting to criticise or question. As patients, clients or employees, we are expected to be “good”: to be quiet and compliant; to accept without complaint every idiocy of chaotic administration; every petty cruelty of poor organisation; the endless esteem-sapping disrespect and indignity.

Because otherwise we know we’ll suffer, in body, pocket, mind or spirit, or any combination of the above.

Now Florence Nightingale was a ferociously determined and successful change agent, but she also had a good few things on her side. She was well connected, with privileged access to people of power and wealth. She had a highly successful market image, a sympathetic press and popular support. She was not a little person.

How are we little people going to fight our newly created monster?

I’ve seen institutions change, but it’s a big ask, as they say nowadays

1. You find a leader with determination, endurance and integrity.
2.  You get a board/cabinet/party/pressure group to back her/him.
3.  You get rid of the bad staff by (a) making them work (b) dragging them through disciplinary procedures, tribunals etc.
4.  You promote and reward the good staff, so that the balance of power & influence in the workforce changes, with good practice becoming the norm.

A big ask indeed! We’re going to need a monster fighting change agent, to battle alongside us little people.

Any good politicians out there any more?

Anyone with principles and a bit of backbone?

Situation vacant.

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The Seventies – Sorry You Missed Them?

On pens, paper and a past world
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Last night I watched a “documentary” about the Seventies. It was really an excuse to use all the naughty words and scenes that are now banned from view. Assorted young people expressed mock horror.

It got me thinking about that pre-online era , its lack of monitoring and surveillance, its strange innocence of the seedy corruption now being so ruthlessly exposed.  Swearing was still considered improper in mixed company or outside the privacy of the home. And homes were still considered private space. If someone had seriously suggested we shouldn’t smoke in them or have a drink while nursing our infants, we would have gaped at them in amazement.

Nobody checked up on you much, record keeping was often sporadic and haphazard. When all you had was paper and pen, or a typewriter that demanded carbon copies and correcting fluid, recording every detail was too onerous and bulky to be manageable.

Of course, the opportunities for evil to flourish were manifest, but for most people, I would point out to the judgemental young of the online era, this didn’t impinge hugely on their day-to-day lives.

I particularly loved the job references of those days. They were seldom wordy. One of my favourites, which conjured up a whole world picture in a single sentence, was elegantly hand written on ancient college notepaper.

” Alisdair’s First in Classics was well-deserved.”

Poor Fiona, however, was given shorter shrift from her employer.

“Miss Smith is a well-spoken, neatly presented young woman, who has been with us for two years”

Yet when I look at the painstakingly documented minutae on today’s profiles and portfolios, I wonder how much more they actually tell us about the essential Alisdair or Fiona, than those single sheets of the past.

We’re smothered with all the mountainous documentation on multiple competences, which information technology has made possible. Hundreds upon hundreds of boxes meticulously ticked, but has the quality of work/workers and the culture of the work environment really been manifestly improved?

Of course we can never easily tell, ironically because of those very  deficiencies of record keeping and patchy measures (if any) used in the past. Commentators on the Seventies are free to claim whatever suits their own perspective and ideology.

All I can say for sure is that, despite all the information we now have, it doesn’t seem to prevent the corrupt practices of global business, powerful elites or the authoritarian, opinionated, politically polarised gatekeepers of public services. It doesn’t even prevent the brutal murder of little children in their cruel homes and CCTVed communities, nor the institutional ill-treatment of the old and vulnerable.

We little people just know more about it now.

We can see it on television.

Just like all the explicit brutality and close-up, lip-licking violence that was never screened in the benighted Seventies; the online porn desensitising a whole generation; the dubious faux porn of the pop video degrading “emancipated” young women; the pitiless exploitation and humiliation of the afflicted in “reality” shows; the freak shows masquerading as medical “documentaries”.

For many of us, the Seventies weren’t such a bad time to be alive – despite all that shiny artificial satin and those silly platform shoes!

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The Bonny Blair Award for Cupidity, Spin and Evasion

The Clear Winner by a Country Mile.

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Since first getting involved in the campaign to win Justice for LB, I have tried to believe that no hospital trust could be entirely without principled leadership. I kept hoping that somewhere in the management and governance of the organisation, there had to be somebody who was prepared to ask awkward questions and not be satisfied by generalities, corporate spin or glossy awards.

I admit defeat.

I’ve seen a lot of burying bad news and economy with the truth in my time, even been party to it on occasion. I’m no saint.

But even I cannot credit the calculating and bare-faced shamelessness of the treatment that LB’s family have experienced from the Health Trust responsible for the preventable death of their healthy son.

LB’s “mum” – never referred to respectfully by her professional title, Dr Ryan – was an immediate target for undermining and defensive suspicion. She committed the cardinal sin of having an honest, outspoken blog, in which she from time to time used strong language. She was also outspoken about her grief and distress, and refused to see these as unreasonably extreme. She didn’t want to be helped to conveniently “move on”. She howled and stormed online.

No wonder she was identified as a dangerous hazard. She and her sympathisers had to be silenced, obstructed and discredited at all costs. Surveillance called for!

As her spontaneous campaign for justice sprouted and grew, other worrying data and cases came to light. This does not seem to have alerted anybody governing the Health Trust to the likelihood that something, somewhere in their organisation was badly wrong. Rather it gave rise to renewed efforts to fight off any such suspicion, by fair means or foul.

So where does the story end?

There’s still a chance for someone decent at the Health Trust to suggest an alternative approach.  Something other than rendering life so unendurable for grieving families that they give up and go away.

I would love to think it might be so.

Other than that it’s the long slog through all the legal procedures to force the Trust, kicking and screaming every step of the way, to face the fact that the award they most richly deserve is the one in the title here above.

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It Was Always Thus

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As I follow Sara’s terrible account of her slow ongoing torture by the Health Trust whose systems and employees caused her son’s preventable death, I am continually reminded of Dickens’ Bleak House, the first book I studied when I went to university.

It might seem a depressing choice, but it is a good preparation for dealing with the law and other public bodies.

Sara, in her last post, asked how people experience working for public services today.  I fear many of them would recognise Dickens’s Court of Chancery all too well. Cases drag on interminably,  “complainants” become increasingly desperate, their anger either fading into depression, or taking over their lives to the detriment of every other facet of their existence. Relationships break down under the strain.The only beneficiaries are the legal firms growing fat on fees.

Yet today’s LA and Health Trust employees surely cannot be likened to the miserable clerks inhabiting Dickens’s dark world, aware of the situation and sufferings of their clients, but powerless to make any change?

While today’s offices may be brighter and have more ergonomically designed seating, power relationships still remain the same and all the information technology in the world doesn’t change that. Basically, just like Bob Cratchit, employees do what they are told. They know from the example of whistleblowers that, if they don’t, all the employment legislation in the world won’t protect them from being rendered unemployable.

In any office there are nasty people who will take advantage of every regulation and directive to be deliberately obstructive, just as there are others who will do their best, within the constraints of their situation, to be helpful. The majority simply grow indifferent.

That is why #deathbyindifference is so accurate.  Indifference is the default setting for any institution where the majority of employees feel little commitment or calling to their work, where they are powerless to change things and/or have cut-back practises imposed upon them. Patronised (at best) by their employer through tawdry rewards and dumbed down “training”, they soon grow cynical and bitter.

No amount of external inspection or internal paperwork can safeguard clients if the workers simply don’t care. Situations go wrong because nobody bothers to check or to follow up some concern in a timely fashion, or to make sure some point of information was accurate. In the end, somebody lies dead.

In Bleak House Dickens decried the indifference of his own day

Dead, your Majesty.  Dead, my lords and gentlemen.  Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends. Dead, men and women born with heavenly compassion in your hearts.  And dying thus about us every day.

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Yet we don’t live in Dickens’s times. Change has been made for the better. It was brought about by the determination and campaigning of individuals who cared. Those who campaigned to force the law to take children out of the mills and the mines, to free the enslaved, to educate the poor.

In JusticeforLB, and JusticeforNico, we have a campaign for our own age. It is daunting and depressing at times, but we tread in the footsteps of all those who battled against the entrenched practices and injustices of the past.

It isn’t easy.

Fighting for the little people never was.

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Rainy Days and Risk Assessments Really Get Me Down

Life’s Lessons 12  on Different perspectives on safety & protection

Today it rained. This was a nasty shock. Yesterday the local beach was so busy we couldn’t get served at the beach bar.

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Oddly enough, this made me think about attitudes to safety, protection and risk assessment.

Here a properly rainy day happens only now and again. A few days’ continuous rain merits much comment and discussion. Grey skies and solid, day-long rain are the exception rather than the rule.

As a result nothing is planned with rain in mind. (For example, the new metro flooded so badly it had to be closed and reconstructed.) Streets turn into temporary rivers. Things leak. Road surfaces resemble skid pads. Minor accidents proliferate as the driving population takes to its cars. The carless retreat into rainfall hibernation.

Yet, to Northern Europeans, it’s a mild wettish day, nothing to cause the slightest drama, at the very worst a minor inconvenience. No panic!

With regard to safety, however, the attitude is the complete opposite. Here, they only seem to pay any attention to risk, if you upset someone in the local council offices and they reckon they can fine you for it. They’re very short of ready cash nowadays at the Town Hall.

The side wall of our eight storey apartment block was painted by one man abseiling down it with a big paintbrush.  He couldn’t manage the front balconies, so the Community (ie Residents’ Association) President hired a sort of fireman’s lifting platform and got two of his pals to paint them, mates rates. No scaffolding, no harnesses, no problem.

An elderly neighbour, who took a couple of tumbles on her mobility scooter as she made her daily round of the village cafe/bars, was reluctantly persuaded to take up residence in the local care home.
Now a cheerful young man pushes her wheelchair up to the bar at lunch time. There is a vertiginous slope at the entrance, everybody smokes on the crowded terrace, there is nobody to help her (except the barmaid) to get to the toilet. I can’t imagine what a risk assessment would look like, especially as she is going there specifically for the purpose of consuming alcoholic liquor and calorie ridden fried food.

Last weekend at the beach I met a party of elderly nuns pushing their equally elderly wheelchair dependent charges down the rickety boardwalk to the water’s edge and some of them were smoking! (The charges, not the nuns!) Try doing a risk assessment on that!

Somehow the “protection” industry in the UK seems to have burgeoned into an oppressive, faux-legalistic, narrow-minded killjoy. In control-freak mode, public authorities seek to impose a tedious, long-winded, timorous value system on the powerless. Yet, if anything, we seem less safe where and when it really matters, like nighttime and weekends in hospitals.  Normal reasonable care and sensible attention to basic safety considerations seem to have gone by the board, buried deep in paperwork.

Personally, I’d rather be wheeled down to the seaside on a dodgy boardwalk by a doddery nun than stuck in a smugly safe, box ticked communal lounge with a booming television and a bored carer for company.

And now, I’m delighted to say, it’s stopped raining!

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