The Complainant


A desk in an office.

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It was never going to be a visit I was looking forward to. While our manager no longer sidles up to us and drops a physical paper file on our desks by way of allocation, she now sends emails with links.  This one though, she came to ‘virtually deliver’ personally.

The fact that she apologised on allocation set off all my little internal alert antennae. She then explained that she would de-allocate one of the others she had intended to allocate to me as this one needed more ‘social work’ skills. Hmm. Intriguing.

Then she told me she almost felt like she was setting me up to fail. Aha, I thought, a challenge. That should be interesting – or would be if I had a little more time available.

It was to be a priority.  Mr F had made a complaint about the input of social services. He had made complaints about the input of his GP. He had made complaints about just about everyone he had come into contact with.  He knew the team consultant from clinic visits  (and about whom he had not complained)  and had called him directly with his litany of complaints and had been assured that ‘something would be done’.

And so it was it virtually landed on my desk. The complaints were understandable – to an extent – Mr F felt he and his wife needed more than the eligibility criteria would allow him to access. He did not felt the assessment had taken into account all the relative information and anyway, he said, he found the preponderance of endless forms, assessments, reviews to be overwhelming and positively unhelpful.

I promised to visit and he asked me why. ‘You will just take out a form and ask me more questions that have already been asked’. And I made an assurance to him.

‘How about I visit, just to meet you and the family – and I promise I will not take a piece of paper or a pen out of my bag?’.

He seemed dubious but he concurred. That without doubt is something that the AMHP work has made me confident enough to do. I never conduct Mental Health Act Assessments with pen and paper as it draws a barrier. I often jot things down when I am speaking to someone in my general course but I felt that this visit needed some basic relationship-building before we ran off into the distance to ‘fix all that was not right’.  It is also a luxury I could not have afforded in my previous incarnation when I worked in the social services office. I had a form to fill and an hour for a visit. I needed to ensure I at least made notes even if I didn’t go through the form (which I tried not to do) in the house.

My main aim was to just build up enough trust to visit again.  I was asked what I would do that was different and answered honestly that while I didn’t think I could necessarily provide different services, I might be able to look at the issues through different eyes.

As it was, I did pick up a few things that had not been offered previously, mostly relating to carers’ services. From arriving with trepidation I entered a warm and welcoming environment of a man struggling to get to grips with his wifes’ encroaching and all-encompassing dementia. He wasn’t angry, he was just desperately sad.

He wanted help but he didn’t know what help he wanted yet. He had been offered and cajoled but I think it wasn’t a matter of wanting to complain, just a matter of wanting more time.

I felt hopeful after the first visit. Yes, it had gone on for a couple of hours but I felt we had both made some progress at looking at some other services that might be available but mostly I think the complaint wasn’t substantially about eligibility criteria. It was about coming up against services that shroud themselves in guidelines and paperwork (virtual or not). I suspect before long the honeymoon period will be over and a complaint will find it’s way to the council about me as well. But I hope in the meantime I can at least provide some kind of support.

My concern though, as I look at my diary for the next months ahead, is how much these two hour conversations eat into my limited time to do other things. Talking probably helps more than is accounted for. Feeling that someone is listening is enormously important just as a validation of humanity rather than a process of a bureaucratic function.

It’s not hard to understand what effect the cuts will have in situations like this.

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