Day 70 was adopted by Yvonne Newbold who wished to write this blog post to share some of her own personal reflections on LB and Sara’s experience, and the similarities to those of her and her son Toby. This is why Yvonne wanted to get involved:
I’ve never met Sara, nor did I ever meet her son, Connor (LB), yet the shock I felt when I first heard about his preventable death is something that will live with me forever, and which has developed into a searing sense of outrage and anger as I watch the NHS handling of this tragedy unfold.
You see, I also have a severely learning disabled son, who also has severe autism, and I also recently had to entrust his care to others due to my own ill health. His name is Toby and he is 20 years old. There is a real sense of ‘this could have been, or one day might be, our story’. I also know what it’s like to be fobbed off, discredited and abandoned by the NHS as Sara has been since LB’s death, because when you are a parent of a different child, these things seem to happen all the time.
Although I have never met Sara, there is an affinity which exists between parents of children with disabilities, an understanding that transcends normal communication, a sense that we each simply ‘get it’ in a way that the so-called expert professionals very rarely do. To me; LB, Sara, Toby and I, along with every family coping with the issues that disability brings, are all part of the same tribe, a family of sorts. What happens to one of us is personal; it hurts all of us.
This is what she has to say:
Something rather insidious has happened to our society in the past couple of decades since LB and Toby were born, and being a parent of a son who is reliant on the Statutory Services, I’ve watched it spread and become acceptable from a front-row seat.
A culture of fear has taken hold among those working within our health, social care and education services, a fear that paralyses them and prevents them from doing the job for which they are paid; which is to protect and support the most vulnerable members of our society. Instead this culture of fear has turned their priorities upside-down. They now seem to do all they can to protect and support themselves and each other, and maintain the reputation of the organisation they work for.
When organisations have their funding and future survival of services tied to the vagaries of abstract key indicator targets to the extent that we have allowed it to happen, there is a huge vested interested to paper over the cracks, bury any mistake that happens, and create systems that cover their backs rather than reach out to help those in most need. When this trend is also happening alongside a society becoming more litigious year on year, the focus becomes even more self-interested.
They have to keep up appearances to make everything seem excellent and tickety-boo, with no room to admit that human errors sometimes happen. The people who work in these environments are no longer able to make autonomous decisions; we have all seen the growth of the interminable meetings where even the smallest things are now decided by committee. Joint decisions are always watered down and become half-baked shadows of the actions really needed. No one is able to stick their head up over the parapet anymore and say something sensible, because they are all too scared. Using one’s own initiative is frowned upon but how can you truly care for someone in any meaningful way without being allowed to sometimes think on your feet?
No one takes personal responsibility in these organisations anymore because they aren’t allowed to. Meanwhile young people like LB die, because if no one takes personal responsibility, so no one can apply common sense, and it’s also, of course, no one’s actual fault.
The unspoken mantra is ‘cover our backs, cover our backs, cover our backs’. The staff feel compelled to collude with management to hide any weaknesses or failings. Reputation is king. Any weakness or failing that comes to light is minimised, or side-lined or hidden away. Truths are spun and twisted, any insider who tries to speak out is pilloried as a whistle-blower. If failings cannot be neatly filed away, they sometimes find a scapegoat, and publicly pillory them as well. No wonder the staff are so frightened.
The upshot is that staff bring that fear into every encounter with those in their care. The emphasis changes, again to protect themselves. For every few minutes they spend with those they care for, several more minutes must be spent writing down everything that happened during those two minutes, just in case something ever comes back to bite them on the bum sometime in the future. What they write doesn’t always reflect what did actually happen during those two minutes either; it has to be skewed to fit the text-book version of what would sound best.
So all the reports are written, all the boxes are ticked, and they can produce their swanky glossy brochures telling all and sundry how marvellous their service is. Their backs are turned away from those who really matter and meanwhile LB drowns, and countless others continue to be short-changed.
Our young people deserve better, and things must change for the better, too, and fast. The staff who work for these organisations don’t want to work in a culture of fear anymore either. The vast majority care passionately about making lives better, but their hands are tied by fear.
Mistakes happen, we all know that. When they do, parents like Sara deserve the level of respect that can only come from complete honesty, truth, compassion, empathy and sincere apologies. It is the only acceptable way to behave. Particularly in LB’s case, when that mistake was one that had been waiting to happen for far too long.
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