The Customer is King
Those of us who have worked in the commercial world will remember offices bedecked with posters of a lion with the age-old business mantra – ‘The Customer is King’ – it highlights the importance of customers (and potential customers) in every business. It’s a rule that means you promise to provide good customer service to your customers.
Recently, we were given insight into the “new culture” at Southern Health. Here are some examples to judge Southern Health’s recent conduct compared to this mantra.
RULE 1 – Ignore your Chairman’s Instructions
New Interim Chairman, Alan Yates asked Director of Corporate Governance, Paul Streat (ex-NHS [Un]improvement) to answer a question posed by person A at the recent Board Meeting .
“Does the Board believe it appropriate for the executive to interfere with the process for electing a Lead Governor inter alia by changing the agreed schedule at short notice without re-balloting the governors; by deliberately withholding correspondence from the governors intended to inform their decision; by knowingly allowing the circulation of a flawed expression of interest; and by failing to ensure that one of the candidates declares his serious conflicts of interest?”
Person A wanted to reply to Streat’s answer, in the belief that it was untenable but the Chairman agreed A should discuss the response with Streat during a break to allow time for other questions. When A tried to do so, Streat answered with a dismissive wave:
“I’m not speaking to you, you’ll have to approach me through normal channels.”
The Chairman’s response on hearing about this was that Streat would meet person A and, true to his word, a meeting between Streat and A has been arranged. However, it seems that Streat is frightened of customers because he is to be accompanied by the Interim Chief Executive. Surely she has better things to do than be a bodyguard?
A governor subsequently summed it up:
“I get the impression some NEDs are arrogant and think they are indispensable! It is hard to expect such arrogance and disdain for authority when the Interim Chair of the same board you are on has told you to do something within his remit.”
There’s one flaw in this – Streat is not even a NED – he is an Executive Director.
The meeting is on 12 December. Watch this space – we do not wish to give advanced notice of the arguments.
RULE 2 – Appoint an anonymous ‘independent’ investigator to investigate a serious complaint by the family of an ex-staff member allegedly without talking to the staff member or the complainants and even withholding the identity and qualifications of the investigator. The conclusion is unsurprising:
“Members of the Council of Governors received communication in the summer from Mr & Mrs [redacted] in respect of concerns relating to their [redacted]’s dismissal from the Trust. Tim Smart, then Interim Chair, commissioned an independent investigation; as part of this the family were invited to submit all documentation they considered relevant, and this offer was taken up. The independent investigation did not uphold any of the allegations made; the outcome of the report has been shared with Mr & Mrs [redacted].”
Why did the governors – especially the Lead Governor – allow this to happen when the complaint is addressed to them? In fairness, the ‘rebel’ governors are a minority and the Lead Governor is known to have arranged a similar stitch up in the past.
RULE 3 – Commission John Dale to carry out an ‘independent’ review of the handling of a complaint from an ex-patient.
These are the exact words of John Dale’s emails to complainant X and/or his supporters:
“I have not been commissioned to go down to Southampton at any time to meet with them or Mr X.
“I do not live locally and have never undertaken any work for this Trust before. However I do chair and run the National NHS Complaint Managers Forum which the Southern Health Trust is a member as are HeathWatch England’s national office. I live and work from home which is in Milton Keynes.
“While I do my best to be independent I am being paid by them to do this review.”
“I am not dealing with anyone bar the advocate and Mr X” [our bold throughout].
So Southern Health’s idea of an independent investigation is to appoint someone who is Chairman of an organisation of which its Complaints Manager is a member; who will not guarantee his independence; who lives 125 miles away without paying travel expenses; and deny the complainant his choice of adviser/witness. [An advocate is not allowed to advise and is not a witness.]
RULE 4 – Make the complainant unwell again.
With the help of a supporters and three other mental health providers, complainant X (see Rule 3) had made a tremendous leap forward in the six months since he disengaged with Southern Health. This is on the record in the Minutes of a meeting three weeks ago.
In handling his complaint, Southern Health has succeeded in undoing six months work in three weeks – he has relapsed and is presenting with symptoms again. This makes it even more difficult to engage in the complaints review, especially having been denied the adviser of his choice. He has asked Southern Health to adjourn the review!
RULE 5 – Commission John Dale to carry out an ‘independent’ review of the handling of a complaint from a bereaved family.
Southern Health imposed the same limited remit, as in the vase of complainant X even though the Coroner described the case as, “A wake up call for the Trust.”
How does Southern Health treat customers?
Like Kings or dung beetles?