Tuesday, 27 October 2015

A Climate of Concealment

There is a scene in “Yes Minister” where Jim Hacker goes “walkabout” without the guiding present of Sir Humphrey and talks to members of staff without Sir Humphrey being present. Sir Humphrey is extremely annoyed and tells the Minister he cannot just go off meeting people in the department, as meetings need to be arranged and proper records kept.

That couldn’t happen in real life – or could it? Paul Le Claire’s testimony to the Jersey Care Inquiry reveals a culture in which bad management was concealed, and in which, incredibly, he was forced to apologise for “checking up on officers”.

Of course, if the officers in question had been providing a true statement about the situation, there would have been no reason for him to bring the subject up at all, except to praise them. I venture to suggest that if that had been the case, there would not have been any criticism of him!

This particular story dates back to a time before Ministerial government, although one wonders how much of a difference that actually made. He was a member of the Health & Social Services Committee from June 1999 until 2005.

This is an extract from his statement, made to the inquiry, and in the public domain on their website. One serendipitous side effect of the Jersey Care Inquiry is that it puts into the light a number of practices which show what really was going on “behind closed doors”.

For the historian, this is a godsend, as it sheds light on what it was like to be a member of a committee, how the committee operated, how accurately records of meetings were kept, and the dangers of relying on briefings from officers who either themselves had been mislead by underlings, or who were themselves being duplicitous.

In such a climate, it is clear that the best way of getting things done was probably to take a less confrontational approach, which is certainly what Dick Shenton would have done if Paul Le Claire had told him. There are probably ways and means of telling officials that the reality had better catch up with the minuted assurance.

But that really should not be the case. If an official tells a committee that something has been done, he should have checked that it has been done, and certainly he should not assure the committee it has when it has not, or accept an apology when it emerges that it has not. This extract shows that there needs to be independent ways of checking whether officials are being accurate in what they are saying.

A Climate of Concealment: The Case of the Renal Ward
by Paul Le Claire

One matter which illustrates the culture of cover-up within the States is the way in which minutes were taken of meetings of the Health and Social Services Committees and others on which I served. On numerous occasions, I witnessed situations where the note taker would be asked to put their pen down and not record certain parts of the meeting. This usually happened when something controversial was being raised, or something that could potentially damage the reputation of the States.

The note taker would literally be told ‘This is not for minuting’ and the clerks who were taking the minutes would put their pens down. I know that this happened in relation to the X children briefing which I refer to later. I know that clerks who were usually from the States Greffe were often given this instruction during committee meetings.

One specific area of concern that I had whilst a Deputy and Senator related to the renal ward at the General Hospital. Concerns had been raised about the quality of care and provision in this unit at the hospital and, due to the nature and seriousness of those concerns, I started to look into the matter further. I carried out a visit to the renal ward and, having spoken to staff at the hospital, it became clear that the ward did not have the right equipment to do the job properly and the ward was at serious risk of not meeting appropriate standards.

When I started looking into the renal ward, I thought that I would get a pat on the back for listening to concerns and looking to do something about it. However, I soon came to realise that this was not the case.

I later reported back to the Health and Social Services Committee about the concerns that had been raised. I reported that I had visited the renal ward and had been told about the lack of appropriate equipment and that other safety standards were not being adhered to. I was assured that the matter would be looked into and would be dealt with. My report to the committee resulted in the renal ward issue being placed on the agenda for a future Health and Social Services Committee meeting.

Before the meeting where the renal ward issue was to be discussed, the committee members received a copy of the agenda. This was not unusual - an agenda would always be sent out before the committee meeting took place. The agenda for this particular meeting confirmed that the issues at the renal ward had been resolved, and that James Le Feuvre, the Manager of Corporate Services who was in charge of this agenda item, would provide the committee with an update at the committee meeting.

Having been told that the renal ward issues had been resolved, and by chance having arrived early for the meeting, I decided to visit the ward to see how matters had improved since I last visited. However, when I turned up at the ward one of the nurses immediately said to me ‘What are you doing here?’ I thought this was a strange reaction. I therefore confirmed that I was visiting to see how the ward was running, now that everything had been fixed. It was at this point that the nurse confirmed that the matters had not been resolved and that only one thing, on a list of many, had actually been rectified.

I was very concerned by this as there had been a list of numerous matters that needed to be addressed at this renal unit and the committee paper which had been written some two weeks before clearly said that all matters had been addressed. I therefore decided to raise this at the committee meeting

During the committee meeting, Mr James Le Feuvre, spoke on this item and updated the committee and confirmed that the issues at the renal ward had been resolved. Senator Dick Shenton was very pleased with this update and therefore suggested that the meeting move on to the next agenda item.

However, before the committee were able to move on, I confirmed that I had visited the ward and had been told that nothing had been resolved, save for one matter. When I had finished announcing this to the committee about the renal ward and the contradiction in the papers,

Senator Dick Shenton literally took a breath and dropped his pen on the desk. There was silence from the rest of the committee. Senator Dick Shenton then said, ‘I can’t have members of my committee checking up on officers’. By this he meant that he was not happy that I had questioned the account given by James Le Feuvre, namely that all of the matters at the renal ward had been resolved.

At this point, Mr Graham Jennings the Chief Officer for the Health and Social Services Department spoke up and agreed that he didn’t want ‘his officers undermined’.

I considered resigning from the committee at this point but I decided that it would be best for me to stay quiet for the time being so that I could stay on the committee to see what else was going wrong, and not being dealt with. I would like to point out that I was a young politician at this time, surrounded by many who had been in politics for many years.

Ten minutes after I had been effectively ‘told off’ by the committee for what I considered was doing my job, I was intimidated into apologising to James Le Feuvre for having gone behind his back to check up on what he had told us.

Therefore I was apologising to someone who had lied to the committee and covered up the fact that nothing had been done to resolve the problems at the renal ward.

Several years later when Senator Shenton himself was in need of the services of the renal unit, we met at Overdale Hospital with the patients. As a result of this meeting he was successful in securing a substantial private donation to fund another kidney dialysis machine.

Speaking afterwards to me at that time, he referred to the incident where we were misled as a committee and said had I spoken to him privately about the matter instead of raising it in the committee meeting, he would have been able to do something about it.

Senator Shenton was a very capable and likeable man whom I hold in high regard but this admission of his underlines the fact that nothing can be done overtly given the climate of concealment that is pervasive within the Civil Service and the General Hospital in particular.

1 comment:

Póló said...

Thank you for reproducing that account. I don't have the time to trawl the Inquiry minutes.

It strikes me that this account, at one fell swoop, not only justifies Stuart Syvret's personal inquiries into the real state of the child services, but also undermines accusations of his bullying staff and undermining morale.

A very important post.