On 21 October I wrote on my blog that the successful candidates who would be heading up Nico’s investigation were the Health and Social Care Advisory Service (HASCAS) lead by Dr Androulla Johnstone.
Two days later I received an email from a man (who I won’t name here as it isn’t essential and I haven’t got his permission to include his personal details here) I have never met and had never heard of. He warned me that a man called Jon Allen, a Non-Executive Director with Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust also held a directorship with HASCAS, although his name didn’t appear on their list of directors. He clearly had nothing but my own best interests and those of Nico’s investigation at heart and wanted to make sure that a great injustice wasn’t done – with Southern Health already tainting the investigation before it had even begun.
I replied to his email and we wrote again to each other a couple of times. He had also lost a son (under very different circumstances) in the care of Southern Health and was clearly both a very clued-up guy and a caring guy. I thanked him and assured him that I would be looking into this very carefully and thoroughly. I emailed Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and Beverley Dawkins immediately to let them know the situation and we began to look into this.
The man who emailed me then tweeted about this and about his concerns with who was involved (potentially) in our investigation. His tweet was quickly picked up by some big hitters in the social media disability world and it was re-tweeted a lot. Then various people started to comment on the “situation” and those tweets were re-tweeted as well. It started to grow and spread very rapidly. To my horror I realised that in the course of one day this “news” was being spread around without anyone asking me about the situation. I posted a tweet, asking everyone to calm down and please to give me time to look into this and I would then let them know. A few people re-tweeted my comment but the other comments continued to be seen by more and more people.
The validity of our investigation was being questioned on social media before it had even begun. This was getting serious.
We had chosen HASCAS as a interview panel of people and one of our panel was away on holiday and would be back soon, but it would be after I had left for my own holiday. We had a conference call and agreed that this was a matter of urgency. We needed to establish all the facts very clearly and some of this would be done while I was away.
I came back from holiday to find that the Twitter storm had totally died out as other more interesting things had happened in the meantime, but as I said to the rest of the panel “people remember and mud sticks”. I don’t need anyone to tell me that often the truth is an inconvenience which just gets in the way of a good story. I knew perfectly well that unless we absolutely knew beyond any shadow of doubt, the total truth of this, then my son’s investigation would forever be tainted in some way. After the amount of work that I had put into writing the Terms of Reference for the investigation, choosing the interviewees and then interviewing them, no way was I going to let this get trashed at this stage, before it had even begun.
So here my tale of truth and it is completely true. I was totally prepared to dismiss HASCAS and start again if I needed to. I was not prepared to compromise, bend the facts or in any other way accept a half truth. It may be that you were one of the people who tweeted about us being compromised by Southern Health, so now you’ll know the truth and it isn’t quite such a shocking story. But it is the truth.
When Dr Androulla Johnstone was interviewed one of the things she told us was that Jon Allen had previously been a director at HASCAS but he had stepped down from this position prior to their applying for the investigation. She volunteered this information at the end of her interview. At the time we thanked her for letting us know, but thought no more of it. It didn’t occur to me at that point there could be a conflict of interests since the bloke had gone.
But in these new circumstances we wrote to HASCAS, seeking further explanation and assurances. Androulla Johnstone wrote back (and this letter arrived while I was away on holiday) to say that Jon Allen had been a company director with the HASCAS trading arm for a few months and stepped down in August this year. But he was never a director with the part of HASCAS which carries out investigations. When Androulla interviewed with us Jon Allen had already left HASCAS, so they believed there to be no conflict of interests.
HASCAS and HASCAS Consultancy (the trading arm of the company’s official name) are two entirely different legal entities with separate boards. They don’t share information, both run independently and are financial separate. One simply helps to raise funds for the work of HASCAS to continue.
However (and I think this shows the power of social media) we then received an email from Southern Health about this!
It was from Lesley Stevens (who has featured in this blog before now and not always in a warm, fuzzy and favourable way) and it read “It has been brought to my attention that there has been comment on social media that HASCAS is not independent from us because one of their directors is also a Non-Executive director with Southern Health. This is inaccurate. Jon Allen recently joined Southern Health as a Non-Executive director and at that point he resigned from HASCAS.”
So HASCAS says Jon Allen doesn’t work with them and both Jon Allen and Southern Health thinks he now does work for them.
So finally we can begin my son’s independent investigation. Now we can start the part that really matters, which is getting to the heart of what happened, how and why.
Yet this has been another learning curve for me. It has taught me not to doubt the power of social media to spread a message fast and widely. It has taught me the absolutely importance of “getting it right”. I think I was naïve not to think that other people would be watching this all very closely. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.
Sometimes I feel that only a very small number of people either read my blogs or watch my tweets, but now I’m not sure about this – and I’m certainly less sure about who those people actually are.
After all, Southern Health is so convinced of the power of social media that they have their own social media department. They spend a lot of time and money tweeting, blogging and generally writing sharp edged spin about what they do and what they’re going to do. If they actually ran their organisation in the way that their spin doctors claim they do they’d be pretty wonderful.
Southern Health – the Blairites of disability care.