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I received that NHS email - and here's why I forwarded it

PUBLISHED: 14:35 24 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:53 24 January 2020

Doreen Livermore (l) died at Amberley Hall Care Home in King's Lynn after she was attacked. Her children, Roy and Valerie had warned for weeks about a violent resident at the home who assaulted her      Photo: Livermore Family/Archant

Doreen Livermore (l) died at Amberley Hall Care Home in King's Lynn after she was attacked. Her children, Roy and Valerie had warned for weeks about a violent resident at the home who assaulted her Photo: Livermore Family/Archant

Archant

I was wasting time, checking my work emails as I waited for a wrist operation at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

The NSFT's communications manager said the death of Terry Jones (right) had helped the organisation The NSFT's communications manager said the death of Terry Jones (right) had helped the organisation "get away" with coverage over the deaths of two dementia sufferers Photo: Ian West/PA Wire

Don't tell Kaye in HR, please: she'll tell me off about my work-life imbalance.

Most of the emails are quickly deleted, but I was intrigued by one labelled "for your information", coming from Mark Prentice, communications manager at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust.

I expected that he would be telling me that we'd got our facts wrong in a recent story.

But no. As you may already know, he had inadvertently copied me into an internal email, in which he told colleagues the NSFT had "got away with" bad publicity from the report into the death in a care home of Doreen Livermore and another dementia patient.

He went on to say they had been "saved by the death of Terry Jones [the Monty Python member]".

I could have deleted the email - after all, it wasn't meant for me.

I could have replied to Mr Prentice, warning him to be more careful when writing and sending emails.

I did neither. Instead, I forwarded it to the EDP/Evening News newsdesk.

It was clearly going to be a big news story, and would spell serious trouble for Mr Prentice. That isn't something I'm particularly comfortable with, as we've all sent emails or social media messages in error or to the wrong person.

There but for the grace of God, and all that...

But we're not senior managers at a mental health trust, which cares for many of the most vulnerable people in our community.

We don't all work for a publicly-funded organisation that operates at its best when its staff display compassion - internally and externally.

MORE: 'I'm angry, shocked and dismayed' - NHS boss to launch investigation into culture following bragging email

The NSFT has also been found on numerous occasions to be failing, so the scrutiny has to be intense.

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I have been an NSFT patient in the past. I received amazing care from remarkable members of staff - and the flipside of negligent treatment when I was sent to a hospital in south-west London during a crisis.

The treatment nearly killed me.

I dread to think how I and my family would have felt if senior managers were talking about me as they did about Mrs Livermore.

Sadly, this email is unlikely to be an exception. I dare say countless similar messages have been sent about other deaths and tragedies where they've "got away with" little publicity.

They just didn't get sent to a journalist.

Mr Prentice's email is a window into a world where the message is more important than the human being: keeping things out of the EDP and off the BBC is prioritised ahead of making things right.

The problem with PR and communications in too many places is this obsession with keeping things out of the news.

It should be about promoting good news, but also being open and honest when negative stories come along. Organisations - particularly public bodies - should have a culture of learning from their mistakes and being humble, not burying bad news.

You'd be amazed by the amount of time and energy put in by some senior communications officers in this area, to challenge a tiny discrepancy in a story that accurately highlights an important issue that affects thousands of people.

Perhaps communications and PR employees need to get some perspective - and get back to thinking about people, not publicity.

And maybe we all need to pause before hitting "send" on our emails.

■ PS - the operation was cancelled, 16 months after my wrist was broken and after a six-hour wait in the Same Day Admissions Unit. I left with a little less blood in one arm, a felt-tipped purple arrow on the other, and growing admiration for the kind, cheerful nurses who deal with this every day.

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