Open letter to Southern Health

When I was very young my mother told me the story of how a new man became President of the United States.  On the first day he placed a sign on his desk for everyone to see.  It read “the buck stops here”.

She said that in America there was an expression called “passing the buck”.  This means that when there is a problem or a difficult decision to be made, people might try to pass that problem or decision onto someone else till it just went around and around and never got solved.

My mother explained that by putting the sign on his desk saying “the buck stops here” the new President was saying “whatever the problem is, whatever the difficult decision is – in the end I will be the one who makes it”.

I have never forgotten this story.  I must have been very young; perhaps 6 or 7 years old and I salute her powers of storytelling as it has stayed with me so strongly for all these years.

I have been thinking about this story a lot recently.  That and the other maxim “with great power comes great responsibility”.  So I feel obligated to write this and to draw to your attention the fact that the time has come for the buck to stop and for you to shoulder your great responsibility.

The details of our case and how we have been treated by Katrina Percy have been specifically detailed in the Mazars report.  I mention this because I don’t want you to think I’m attempting to present myself and my viewpoint in an unbiased way.  I can’t write more about our case as we’re in the middle of our independent investigation.  However what has happened specifically to us is not the reason for me writing this.  I write now only as a deeply concerned member of the general public.

Everyone, even the most senior of people, are entitled to make a few mistakes.  At all levels it is a truth that “it’s not the mistakes you make, but how you learn from them”.  However, and let us be quite clear on this,  Katrina Percy (your CEO) and your board of governors have not just made “a few mistakes”.

The Mazars report on Southern Health tells us that over 1,000 people died on your watch.  You disputed those figures and managed to get that number lowered to 722 people who died unexpectedly in your care.

722 people.  That’s a lot of people.  That’s the size of my village.

That 6 months on Katrina Percy is still your CEO and your board of governors is now in such public disarray is so shocking.  Instead of dealing robustly with the situation and the terrible findings of the Mazars report you have passed the buck around and around.  Then came the Care Quality Commissions damming report into Southern Health.   The watchwords of your profession – compassion, candour and transparency, have been forgotten in the scramble for your to pass the buck as many times as possible.

Not only have you made yourselves appear heartless but you have managed to make yourselves a laughing stock too.

To use the favourite phrase of Southern Health, “lessons have been learned” but the only people who seem to have learned these lessons are the general public, watching and reading about the farcical antics of your board of governors and the shocking smugness, calculating pseudo ethics and denial of your CEO, Ms Percy.

We have learned that you are more concerned with passing the buck than dealing with the situation or remembering why the buck is meant to stop.

If you want Southern Health not to become a byword for unsafe care and Dickensianly heartless management style – you need to stop this now.  There is absolutely no way in which you can continue as a viable organisation going forward while Katrina Percy is still your CEO and without the board of governors acting in a cohesive and responsible manner.

We, the general public don’t care if you don’t consider yourselves personally responsible for the staggering number of deaths in your care – deaths which are 7 times greater than those people lost in the Hillsborough disaster.  If you think for one moment that you’re going to come out of this all shiny, new and spotless, then you should take a moment to reflect on what has happened and what will be happening to all those in positions of responsibility who attempted to cover up and subvert the quest for justice by the Hillsborough families.

Whether you think yourselves responsible for the multiple deaths or not, by the fact that you took the job and your took the salary – YOU ARE.  The buck stops with you.

If Southern Health are going to survive and go forward you need to see yourselves as we, the general public see you.  Take a reality pill and then take responsibility.  How many of the families of the 700 are having independent investigations right now and how many more will be having them?  How many of these cases will come back to your doors again and again? How many of these cases will see you in court?

Everyone in the top positions of power and responsibility when the 700 people died should now be asked to leave, specifically for their part in the deaths and in the subsequent cover up.  Some of them have already resigned but those who haven’t must now be sacked.  This clearly includes Katrina Percy.  When they are gone then you may be able to salvage what remains and actually learn from your mistakes.  If they stay that will be impossible and you will become untenable as an organisation and as care-givers.

I appeal to you to be the people you want to be.  Have pride in yourself and in your profession and do the right thing.  You have run out of dark corners to hide in and the world is watching you.

Time to step up and stop the buck Southern Health.