How many parents out there can relate to this?  The following is a genuine complaint letter written by a parent to a hospital in connection with desperate attempts to get in-school support for a child. All names have been changed.

Dear Sirs

I wish to make a formal complaint about the lack of service my son has received from the Child Development Centre.

We have been struggling to get some form of medical intervention for our son John for the last two years. We initially spoke to the GP, who advised we would need to go through the school, who would make the appropriate referrals. Nothing happened with John’s previous school and his difficulties continued not to be addressed, while John’s self-esteem plummeted and he was branded ‘naughty’, despite a long-running family history of neurological conditions such as ADHD and Autism.

We switched his school in late 2011 and finally referrals were made, following a three-day exclusion from school in July 2012 when John was only six years old. We were eventually offered an appointment with Dr X at the Child Development Centre for 9am on 17th September.

On Friday, 31st August, we received a letter after work stating that this appointment had been cancelled and rearranged for 12pm on Wednesday, 5th September. I called on Monday, 3rd September and spoke to the receptionist, Mary, at that time to advise that this appointment was impossible for us because:

1) My husband and I only had 2 days to provide our respective employers with notice that we would need to take time off work, which is not allowed by either of our workplaces (we are required to provide at least a week’s notice for time off)

2) I work in London, and the appointment time meant I would need to take a whole day off work to make the appointment, which would particularly not be acceptable at my office with only 2 days’ notice – not to mention it would eat up my remaining 2 days of holiday time for the year, which inevitably will need to be used for other school events, and would need to be used if John had another incident and required home time during the term

3) My husband works in a care home and to book holiday there requires shifting the schedules of every other worker there

4) To top it off, 5th September was our son’s very first day back at school with a brand new teacher in a new year – bearing in mind that his difficulties surround school, it would be unacceptable to take John out of school on the first day

We were then offered an appointment for 9th October at 10am. I received a voicemail on my mobile phone at 5.08pm on 8th October to notify us that the appointment had been cancelled for the outrageous reason that, after four weeks, Dr X only just realised the appointment time allotted was not long enough for an initial consultation – Dr X wants to see John for an hour but only a half hour was booked into the diary.

There are not words for how unacceptable this is – particularly bearing in mind that one of the things my son is being assessed for is organisational skills! Is the irony lost on everyone there?

I called and spoke to Mary at 9am today to get this dealt with. I was told I would be telephoned back in the next two hours. I had to call back at 12.30pm to find out what was happening. I was told a manager would need to speak to me, which I agreed I wanted. I was called again by Mary around 1.30pm, being offered an appointment time this Thursday at 12pm.

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Now, we have been here before. I explained for perhaps the fourth time that we cannot make such an appointment time, particularly with 2 days’ notice. When I explained again that this is the second time the appointment has been cancelled, I was told that no, it was the first because on the first occasion, apparently the notes had been taken down as ‘cancelled by the parent’. No – I turned down the unacceptable offer of an appointment that was made to replace another appointment that Dr X cancelled. I, the parent, never cancelled our initial appointment. (This was later agreed upon with Sarah, in total contradiction of what Mary told me).

I was also told this new 12pm appointment time is after Dr X finishes her clinic, i.e. after-hours. I said we need the appointment in the morning and was told Dr X only starts the appointments at 10am. If I began my work day at 10am, I would have simply called yesterday to let the parent know that the appointment had to be moved a half-hour earlier and I would have come into work early, because it would be my own fault for not bothering to check the diary in the last 4 weeks and spot the problem. I would also bend over backwards to make up for the mistake. I’ve been told apparently Dr X is going out of her way for us – but this is not true if I’ve stated so many times that we cannot do a 12pm appointment and no one will offer us a morning slot.

Mary rang me again to say the only appointment being offered was 12pm and Dr X will not see us before 10am. I work from 7.45am to 5.30pm each day – I have little sympathy for a doctor who cannot be more flexible in order to correct her own mistake. Furthermore, I am appalled at the way Mary asked me to confirm if I was rejecting the newly offered appointment time, in a way that suggested I’m the one being difficult when I have explained time and time again why we cannot have that appointment time, and after we have been treated so disgracefully for the last two months.

Mary repeatedly said I would need to speak to a manager and offered to have the manager call me directly. However, this took hours to actually happen. I asked how to make a formal complaint and was told again that I would need to ask the manager. Mary even acknowledged that she had just spoken to the manager herself, and yet the manager was not available to speak to me. I can’t help but feel I was fobbed off since 9am by one person after another. Mary also insisted that she could not tell me how to make a complaint. She then told me that I was being unfair to her by being so angry when none of this was her fault (despite the fact that when I did speak to the manager, Sarah, I was told it was the fault of the person who made the original appointment…who happens to be Mary).

I worked as a receptionist for years, and if I had ever taken a call from someone in my position who was as (rightfully) upset as I am, I would have had someone in charge speak to the caller hours ago. I would have actually tried to find a solution to the problem.

The icing on the cake is that at the end of the conversation, Mary simply talked over me to say she was going and hung up the phone on me! (Sarah said Mary had a different angle on the conversation – I’m not surprised.)

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I was later finally telephoned by Sarah at the Hospital and told:

1) The diary mishap is not the doctor’s fault, it’s an administrative error (despite Mary in the morning telling me she only found out about it herself this morning and it was down to the doctor).

2) That contrary to my suggestion, administration does not represent the doctor in any way and you should not be viewed as a team the way that at my office, if one member of staff made such a mistake, it would damage the image of the whole company. I would like you to understand that I don’t care who is ultimately to blame for this situation – you are all incriminated in it and no one has handled this properly.

3) That the doctor would not have known about the appointment time issue because ‘it doesn’t work like that; the doctors don’t regularly check their schedules’. It goes without saying that there is absolutely no excuse for this, and I am shocked at the admission of such irresponsibility.

4) That ‘now that we know the reason you can’t make an afternoon appointment, we can try to arrange something else’, despite me telling Mary the reasons we could not make these appointment times over and over and over again, beginning with our original conversation in September.

Sarah also at last gave me the address to write to with a formal complaint. It was as simple as an address. How was Mary unable to provide me with this information?

For all you know, by this point John has been thrown out of school. You have no idea what’s been happening with him, your system is chaos, and it has been made abundantly clear that no one there actually cares about my child’s wellbeing. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do to get John the support he needs, short of winning the lottery and quitting my job to teach him myself, which is clearly not happening any time soon. I don’t know what I pay my taxes for when I’ve been fighting for 2 years to get John even this far in the system.

The most frustrating thing is that this complaint is effectively worthless, because who do you actually answer to? There is no direct organisation to complain to, short of writing to my MP and contacting the newspapers (which I’m probably going to do) – what does it matter to you if I’m this upset? At my company, if we made a huge mistake and the client called up to complain about it, if we fobbed them off for hours, denied culpability, refused to comply with the client’s needs even though we could physically make arrangements to comply, refused to let someone in charge speak to them to deal with the situation and then hung up on them, we would lose money, our reputation would be tarnished and the company would suffer. We would never get away with such practice. Why is it then somehow okay for the NHS to behave this way, regarding our children?

If anyone has the audacity to wonder why I’m so angry, or suggest that I shouldn’t be, as it was suggested by Mary on the phone today, I would ask you all to remember that it is a SIX-YEAR-OLD who loses out in this, and that is 100% your fault. Child Development, indeed. I cannot believe my child’s future is in the hands of such a shambolic impersonal operation, as if it is somehow representative of stability and healthy interpersonal skills.

Yours faithfully

Distressed Parent

  1. Chris Baker says:

    great letter, hope the blundering fools actually put down their tea and biscuits and do something about it. john deserves so much more, be interesting to see how quickly a government organisation notices if you withhold your national insurance contributions.. those contributions from your wages which go towards paying for these utterly incompetent and mindless chumps. All the best for your good fight! CB

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