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I’ve Fallen For A Girl Called System

June 19, 2012

I’m not sure what happened to this post – its seemed to get lost somewhere. I wrote it after a frustrating morning in Boots at the end of May.

I’ve Fallen For A Girl Called System

May 26, 2012

The other day, I went to collect Steven’s medication from Boots. I arrived at 9.10am and was asked whether I minded that the labels would be hand written as the “system was down”. I didn’t mind at all and was told my order would be ready in 15 minutes. So, I went and browsed the nearest shelves, trying to decide whether I should take a speculative punt on a packet of corn plasters. I noticed that the woman who served me was now engaged in an engrossing conversation with one of the colleagues at the back of the pharmacy and neither seemed to be attending to my order. Their pose suggested that they were discussing something social; they definately weren’t hand writing labels. Other customers came and went and after half an hour, I checked out the progress of my order with a new member of staff who had just showed up. After much searching, my unattended prescription was found by the sink. My friend and her friend, continued with their absorbing discourse and didnt even give a glance in my direction.The new woman profusely apologised, collected the meds and brought them to the front counter and set about writing the labels. At this point, a customer arrived, announcing that she had a blue prescription. She handed it over to my lady who then disappeared into the pharmacy and started dispensing long glasses of medicine. My unlabelled packages lay expectantly where theyhad been abandoned. Ten more minutes passed; my first friend is still deep in conversation; my second friend is still pouring blue medicine for the blue prescription woman. And I think Im about to go bang. A third person arrived to tidy up the counter and piles my four packets into a neat little stack. She ignores me and the queue and disappears again. A fourth person, smiling, possibly fortified by a skinny latte arrived and asked if she could help me. I explain the story. She reddens and puts my order into a little plastic tupperware box and takes it two her two chatterbox colleagues round the back. They look rather peeved that their yarn has been curtailed by me wanting to be served. They shoot me a resentful glance and 55 minutes after telling me that my order would be 15 minutes, the original woman starts to write the labels. Then the telephone rings and my woman moves my package back to the sink area and answers the fucking phone (See – Im getting very ratty by this stage). I shout “oi” but to no avail. The woman who has been mixing up the blue medicine, puts on her coat and wishes everyone goodbye for the day (it’s only 9.55 in the morning). There are nine of us waiting at the counter. Old ladies are arm wrestling over who can have the three available chairs. And then out of the blue, three new staff appear and in five minutes the queue has gone. Except for me. A man, wearing the badge “pharmacy manager” asks if Im being seen to. I tell him the whole sage and inform him that I have now been waiting for one hour and five minutes. Its at this point, I blow. “Sorry sir, but we’ve been having terrible problems with our system this morning”. I won’t have that. “No. No. Its got nothing to do with your system – its about the crap staff you employ.”

And that got me thinking. he was, of course, talking about his computer system. But there is also a much wider, bigger “system” that many of us are caught up in. What strikes me though is how ready people are to humanise the system and give it such awesome powers to hide behind.

In our case, Neary vs Hillingdon, we heard a lot about the failure of the system. And yes, adult social care is one of the biggest systems we have to deal with. In the imagery work I did to help me get through the awful experience, the system was represented by a massive malfunctioning server, out of sight under the stage in a theatre. And on stage, the players were becomingly increasingly madder as the dias they were standing on, were at the mercy of the faulty server. That made a lot of sense to me, until one day, I asked the image two questions: “who controls the server?” and “who can fix the fault”. The interesting response was that it is the actions of the people on the stage that are causing the problem. They are responsible for programming the server but they have allowed the machine to control them even though it is their duty to control the server.

In our judgement, the judge talked about “collective misjudgement”. That is true and certainly happened once the machine cranked into action. But systems dont make decisions – people do and it was individual people that made the decisions that laid the course for Hillingdon’s plan. In April 2010, a group pf professionals got together and decided that neither Steven, nor myself, must be told of their plan to move Steven hundreds of miles away. That was a decision, probably suggested by one person and agreed upon by the others. My point is – it was a human decision, not a system decision.

It was subsequently decided by the judge that the council had acted illegally on several counts. This is where a person, or a group of professionals suddenly morph into “the council”. “Hillingdon” is born but is it male or female? And it lets those individuals off the hook because no one individual can be held to account; the illegal acts were committed by the council! Minor distractions like individual accountability and personal integrity can be swept away and all we are left with is the get out position that the system fucked up.

A similar situation happened last year in the case of Peggy Davies, an 82 year old woman who for years had taken cruise holidays with her partner. Now in a care home, officials decided that her latest planned cruise posed too great a risk. To give them the neccessary leverage to support their decision not to allow her to go on the cruise, officers at Cardiff council declared that Peggy lacked the mental capacity to make such a decision for herself and slapped a deprivation of liberty order on her. Fortunately, a few days before the boat was to set sail, the court of protection lifted the DoL and Mrs Davies went off on her hols. However, in all the commentaries I’ve read on the case, the focus has been on the “risk averse system” and the system “protecting Mrs Davies’s best interests. People made the decision. Probably one person had the thought one day: “I dont think its a good idea for Peggy to go on the cruise” And from that initial thought, a momentum takes hold and a group of people go into a DoL frenzy. The system may support the frenzy; the system may actually encourage it but it is a frenzy generated by human beings.

It’s endemic. Last week, I visited my new workplace to get a feel of the area. Whilst there I started to chat with one of the gardeners. He pointed out some serious ivy was growing out of hand up the back wall. “Do you know, we’re not allowed to climb up a ladder anymore. Health and safety. The system’s gone mad”. No, it was a group of people sitting around a table who decided that gardeners cant climb up ladders anymore. A risk averse bunch of middle managers, more than likely.

We’re all in systems. In fact, most of us are in so many systems, it is a struggle to hold to a sense of personal autonomy. Systems may be designed to keep us in line; to distort our view of our world but we should try really hard to resist the temptation to use the system as an excuse to avoid responsibility for our own actions. Every time we succumb to that weakness, we lose another part of our selves and thats a shame.


From → Personal Stuff

One Comment
  1. I tend to comment, when people say something is a risk to an elderly person, that my father, now 90, was encouraged, nay ordered by the state at the age of 21 with his life ahead of him, to get in a tank and drive across Europe with people in bigger tanks with better guns trying to shoot him/immolate him alive, but now his life is nearly over the state doesnt want him (or rather his contemporaries) to take any risks at all.

    This often does not go down well.

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