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NHS Fife Playing the System

As I detailed in my previous post “NHS Fife’s Devious Complaints System” I have had an on-going complaint against Fife NHS for 6 years now. My first post was concerned with the way the NHS colluded with the NMC to close out my complaint against a CAST Team nurse. But Fife NHS was also more than willing to use their knowledge of the complaints procedure to close out any chance of an investigation by the SPSO as well. The SPSO has its limitations anyway, but Fife NHS simply removed any chance that the SPSO would investigate their behaviour.

One of the conditions of the SPSO is that you must raise a complaint against the NHS within one year of the issue occurring. “We don’t usually look at complaints if the matter you want to complain about happened more than a year ago”. In SPSO speak, for “usually” read “ever”.

The other condition of investigation by the SPSO is,

“We can only look at complaints after they have been through the right complaints process”.

Now if you are in the business of not investigating complaints, like Fife NHS, then these two conditions are a godsend. Investigations by the SPSO can be avoided with ease, simply delay the completion of the “right complaints process” by more than a year and hey presto the SPSO are neutralised.

I had an initial complaint closed out prematurely by Fife NHS, I attempted to raise a new complaint when I received some new written evidence to support my original claim. After a lot of letter writing I felt I had made a breakthrough and I was offered a meeting with the General Manager.

The meeting minutes issued to me by Fife NHS gave me hope and indicated that a new enquiry would be started.

“George expressed the fact that "we didn't work well with you". He acknowledged that this does happen from time to time. From his perspective he clarified that it was important to determine whether there had been incompetence or whether there was a malicious element. He acknowledged the resulting issues in terms of break down in trust. He agreed that if the subsequent investigation upheld aspects of the complaint that normally something could be put in the record to state this.”

This meeting took place on 27th July 2010.

After I wrote a few letters and a few emails and made a few phone calls chasing the progress of the investigation, I finally received the following letter from the Nurse Director on 11th March 2011.

“I am writing to apologise for the significant delay in dealing with your complaint. As the Executive Lead for Complaints, this has been brought to my attention. I am aware that an arrangement was made for a further review of your complaint, however, I am clear that there is no scope to carry out such a review. I am sorry that you have been poorly advised. I note you were previously made aware of the role of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman and would now direct you there. I appreciate this will be a disappointing response but hope it enables you to progress matters.”

The first point is that she was not really “writing to apologise for the significant delay in dealing with your complaint” – she is writing to say she is not going to deal with my complaint at all. But I guess you get used to them never saying what they are actually doing! Anyway, that is an aside.

So by throwing me the promise of a new investigation, then simply ignoring me for nearly 8 months, they had played the system and made it impossible for me to comply with the SPSO conditions, as the “matter” had occurred more than a year ago by the time I received the close out on 11th March.

Obviously I tried to make the SPSO see the tactic, but to no avail, they are not flexible and insist that their charter does not allow them to be flexible.

Their willingness to play the rules to avoid investigation is worrying enough, but if you read the words of their General Manager, “important to determine whether there had been incompetence or whether there was a malicious element.” He acknowledged that the CAST team may be led by a malicious nurse, something you would hope it was part of their duty to discover – complaint or no complaint. But apparently 8 months later they are not really bothered if they were sending a malicious nurse into people’s homes or not. Apparently following the process is more important than doing their duty as Managers or Directors.

So, beware, Fife NHS understands the system, they are experts at delaying - blatantly reneging on promises to delay a complaint does not appear to trouble their conscience. If you are launching into a complaint with the NHS, learn the rules early, because time is against you, as is the NHS.

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