Monday, 13 October 2008

If you complained to your MP about Baby C...

... you need to read the following letter.
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It was sent out earlier today, to several concerned parties who have been working hard to protect children in Yarl's Wood, many who have been supporting Baby C and her family directly. It's apparently Quite A Big Deal, for a junior Minister to send out letters to MPs that aren't... ahem ... factually accurate. There, and you thought I wasn't capable of tact, didn't you?
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Believe me, in terms of the meeting that did take place at Yarl's Wood, you have no idea how tactful I can be. Nor how much I can keep my big mouth shut about things.
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You should read the letter....
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It's come to my attention that on September 30th, a letter was sent out by Meg Hillier, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, at the Home Office. The letter was sent to several MPs, who had enquired on behalf of their constituents, about the treatment on Baby C in Yarl's Wood, in June 2008. Namely, that a prescription formula milk for Baby C had been allowed to run out, and the baby had been left unfed for over 18 hours.
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In this letter, Meg Hillier assures MPs that Brian Pollett and Jeremy Oppenheim were reviewing this case personally. She states that a meeting had been set up with Mrs Alison Blenkinsop, and other concerned parties, with Brian Pollett and Jeremy Oppenheim:
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"In addition, Brian Pollett and Jeremy Oppenheim have also arranged to meet with Mrs Blenkinsop and other concerned parties to discuss this issue and seek an appropriate way forward. I am confident that any recommendations resulting from these measures will be fully considered and, where appropriate, implemented."
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I have to inform you that this is factually incorrect.
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Neither Jeremy Oppenheim, nor his office, has had any contact with Mrs Blenkinsop, and no such meeting is planned. Brian Pollett has responded personally to Mrs Blenkinsop, in the past, and a meeting with his staff, Mrs Blenkinsop and myself, took place some time ago: Brian Pollett was not present. There simply isn't any meeting, that we are aware of, with Brian Pollett, Jeremy Oppenheim and Mrs Blenkinsop.
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On 15th September, two weeks prior to this letter going out to MPs, Mrs Blenkinsop and myself did attend a meeting at Yarl's Wood. Present were UK Border Agency staff, considerably junior to Mr Pollett and Mr Oppenheim, and Serco staff. The meeting was not fruitful, and all present refused to allow me permission to name those in attendance, or to agree on any quote that could be taken from the meeting.
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In fact, at the start of the meeting, a Serco staff member directly addressed the Border Agency person chairing the meeting, and apparently jokingly said something like "Be careful what you say to her, she'll put it on the internet."
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I did mention during the meeting that Transparency and Accountability were key tenets of our current Government, but those points did not appear to be taken on board.
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Of the meeting, I can only report the following, but alas, have no quotes approved by UK Border Agency upon them:
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1) UK Border Agency accepted that there had been an 'issue' and that the formula should have been brought in on time. They declined to name this 'issue', not agreeing to it being called a 'failing', a 'communication breakdown' or otherwise. They assured us this administrative 'issue' would not arise again. When pushed, the chair asked us to write to him, with wording, to see what he would approve. I've not yet had a chance to do this.
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2) UK Border Agency refused to accept there was any problem with the standard of Baby C's care, whatsoever, once the formula had run out. There was simply no leeway on this, and they refused point blank to accept that there was anything wrong with the baby going hungry for this amount of time. Serco asked that we consider the time Baby C was without formula to be 15 hours, not 18, in respect to her being fed as the formula ran out. We agreed to this, as it made little difference to the facts - that the baby was left unfed for so long. Mrs Blenkinsop made the point several times, that it was simply unacceptable for a baby to be left unfed for this amount of time, and UK Border Agency refused to accept this was not an appropriate standard of care. They directed us to the GP who had advised oral hydration sachets on the phone. Mrs Blenkinsop pointed out a doctor's advice on the phone was only as good as the information given to them, and that Yarl's Wood had the care of this baby. These points were consistently denied, and absolutely no admission that the baby had suffered from being hungry for so long, was conceded. If we wished to take this further, the mother must formally complain to Serco about the Dr's advice, and that was an end to it.
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Therefore, I have to refer back to Meg Hillier's words in her letter, "I am confident that any recommendations resulting from these measures will be fully considered and, where appropriate, implemented." and inform you that, unfortunately, I'm not aware of any such process taking place. As UK Border Agency made it clear that there was no problem with Baby C being 'cared for' in this manner, nothing is being considered with a view to implementation. Not from our meeting, at least.
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On that, there is only one other point in the meeting that I am free to discuss. When I had alerted Brian Pollett, by email, the evening that the baby was not being fed, and urged him to intervene immediately, I had also asked him to get an answer as to why a previous letter of mine to Yarl's Wood, had never been answered.
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In April 2008, I had been supporting a mother being denied lactation support for her breastfeeding baby at Yarl's Wood, and had been told by the head of healthcare, to put it in writing. I had sent in an extremely detailed letter asking for information on several aspects of infant feeding and breastfeeding support at Yarl's Wood.
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I had never received a reply, despite cc'ing the letter to a considerable amount of UK Border Agency staff, and other interested parties.
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I received a letter shortly after, from Gill Foley, at UK Border Agency, informing me in no uncertain terms that I had been answered fully. She even supplied the approximate dates of emails and letters that had been sent to me. I asked for copies.
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At the meeting on the 15th, Serco apologised to me, as no such letters, or evidence of them, could be found. There was no explanation for this, and none to be found. When pushed to find a way to describe how a contractor had assured a Government department that legitimate letters of concern had been answered, when no record of such could be found... UK Border Agency refused to agree on how to describe it. "Lies", "misinformation" and "communication breakdown" were all negated by UK Border Agency.
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When, as the injured party, I pushed that I felt I had a right to a reasonable explanation, I was told that the member of staff concerned was no longer in their employ and there was therefore nothing more to be said.
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It is of note that I have not received an apology from UK Border Agency.
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In light of the subsequent letter from the Home Office, detailing the non-existing meeting to be held to discuss the issues on Baby C, I feel it pertinent to raise this prior situation, illuminating UK Border Agency's track record on correspondence on such matters.
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For my own part, I will be blogging later on today, to advise all constituents who had previously complained to their MPs, to contact them with this letter, and to alert them to the factual inaccuracies in Meg Hillier's letter.
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Mrs Blenkinsop can be contacted independently via her website: http://www.linkable.biz/
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Yours
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Morgan Gallagher
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- - -
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Sigh.
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It's only the Mums that continue to fight on this one, I sometimes feel. I found out about this letter from a Mum on MumsNet, and then asked around to find lots of Mums-who-complained-to-their-MPs had been sent it. My MP hadn't sent it to me. edit: Well, who'hav'thunk. My MP, of all people, as Yarl's Wood is in his constituency, hadn't had a copy of the letter sent to him! Ho hum.
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Am I surprised? No, not any more. Am I shocked? No. Not feeding a baby is what shocked me. Defending those actions, no matter what... that's not shocking, that's obscene.
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If you have complained to your MP before hand, please get in touch with them asap, even if you haven't had a response from this about this letter - and let them know. As I said, it's apparently Quite A Big Deal for a letter like this to go out. If you haven't complained to your MP yet, maybe now if the time to do so. Put your postcode in here.
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If you read the original letter from Meg Hillier, you'll find comments about things being published on the internet. This has happened several times - some MPs have even said in their responses to Mums, that there is only a fuss as it's on the internet. As if being in a network, where human beings - tax payers and voters - share knowledge and information on what our Government is doing, in our name, is A Bad Thing?
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Thanks heavens for the internet!!!!
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And Mums.
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I refuse to finish this post feeling so down! I'll leave you with a smile on your face...

1 comment:

sophiedb said...

I find that absolutely shocking, Morgan! They're working so hard to fix The Problem That Cannot Be Named that the people who're invited to a Very Special Meeting haven't even been told! Damn that demon internet..