A mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted. In such cases, one party has already been deemed guilty/innocent and the other has little or no opportunity to question the verdict.
On a recent inspection, Care Quality Commission Inspectors allegedly concluded that Southern Health’s Complaints Procedures have improved. This is a great mystery as its Complaints, Concerns and Compliments Procedure is unchanged since August 2016.
Appendix 10 of the Procedure (ACTION CARD for the Investigator) is revealing . Brief extracts from the, “Suggested methodology for investigating the complaint” [abbreviated]:
- Follow the terms of reference….
- When you have spoken to or met the complainant….
- Order the critical records….
- Review any policies, local procedures and national guidance.
There is no reference to the complainant agreeing the Terms of Reference or having an opportunity to check the ‘critical records’ for completeness and accuracy.
Then, after several more stages involving staff, experts etc., the investigator draws conclusions without any further involvement of the complainant, until finally:
- Make sure any staff involved have sight of your investigation [report] and final response letter and an opportunity to comment on these.
- Obtain sign off/authorisation from the commissioning manager prior to submitting your investigation and response to the Customer Experience Advisor.
- The final response is signed by the Chief Executive.
The ‘Action Card’ bears no resemblance to official guidance¹. A fair process allows complainants to be involved at every stage, in particular, towards the end:
“Once you [the investigator] have all the evidence, you can review it to identify all points of agreement and disagreement. It can be useful to summarise these for everyone concerned [bold added].
“It can be very helpful to the process and constructive to issue a statement of agreement early on. This lets all parties know that there is a basis of agreement to build on. This then allows all attention and resources to be focused on the areas of outstanding disagreement [bold added].
“The investigator normally works through all the points of contention until they have reached a considered view on every aspect of the complaint.”
And as final step, the official guidance¹ makes clear [emphasis added]:
“Give both parties the chance to give feedback.
Before the report is finalised, everyone involved should have the chance to give you their views on what you have said. It is important to correct any factual inaccuracies before publication.
If you change the report in any major way, remember to let all the parties know and give them a chance to comment before the final report is issued.”
The Care Quality Commission cannot claim that Southern Health has improved its complaints process recently. In a meeting last month with two long-standing critics of the Trust, the Interim CEO confirmed that complainants would not, in all cases, see a draft investigation report or final letter or be given an opportunity to comment on them.
Why has the Care Quality Commission not compared Southern Health’s procedures with the official guidance¹, details of which are below with links to the full documents?
In short, Southern Health’s complaints process is that of a Kangaroo Court.
¹THE RIGHT WAY
Southern Health has no defence for biased procedures. The Department of Health wrote to all NHS CEOs introducing guidance issued pursuant to The Local Authority Social Services and National Health Service Complaints (England) Regulations 2009. It was effective from 1st April 2009.
It established a single approach to dealing with complaints and encouraged a culture to seek and use people’s experiences to make services more effective, personal and safe.
The guides ‘Listening, Responding, Improving’ and ‘The Quick Guide to Customer Care‘ helped complaints professionals work with colleagues to make their organisations better at listening, responding and learning from people’s experiences. Additional advice sheets for complaints professionals were also produced covering: investigating complaints, joint complaints that involve more than one organisation and dealing with serious complaints that have safety implications.
The ultimate irony is that, in ‘Listening, Responding, Improving’, Gemma Seymour, Consumer Experience Development Manager for Hampshire Partnership Trust (which morphed into Southern Health with Gemma in a similar position) writes inter alia:
“You need to listen and let them tell their own story, in their own time. Doing this helps me to establish the facts, which I always check with the complainant to ensure they are correct. I try to make things as easy as possible.
“People also appreciate being given as much of a say as possible. If someone wants their concerns investigated, we involve them in putting together the plan of action.
“The fundamental point is that when you listen, involve and engage people, it makes it much easier to sort out the problem to everyone’s satisfaction.”
One has to ask, if Southern Health had adopted a fair and transparent complaints process on its formation (2011) rather than turn a blind eye to official guidance, would its services have been more effective and safe?