Show Hide image

Six months later, the failure to house Grenfell survivors shows how trust has broken down

Fears about the future and a lack of housing mean the traumatised are still waiting for a new home.

It is now six months since the fire at Grenfell Tower and the national focus has once again fallen on that devastated corner of north Kensington, turning quite rightly to national dismay at the fact that many survivors are still living in hotels.

For these families, moving into suitable permanent homes will be vital for rebuilding their lives - but we must never forget quite how horrific that night was and the depth of trauma survivors are living with, and will be for some time. Six months on it's right that we pause and remember the 71 lives lost, and the aftermath survivors are left to deal with. We must also build a clear picture of why rehousing is taking so long.

As well as the impact of trauma that affects the survivors themselves, it is also vital to remember the profound mistrust that existed between many residents and the council before the fire. Shelter staff were on the ground soon after the fire and our dedicated Grenfell support workers are still helping residents –  they will be for as long as they're needed. We've seen first-hand how trauma and grief paralysed many residents. It was essential for every approach to them to be informed by an understanding of this, and framed by an acknowledgement of the lack of trust and authentic effort to rebuild it. But that is not how it was. 

Instead, a lack of clarity, a lack of understanding of the individual needs of survivors, and a lack of acknowledgement of where relationships were already damaged have undermined the efforts the council has undoubtedly been making. 

This at least partly explains what many outside of the community around Grenfell are struggling to understand: while some have accepted temporary accommodation, others have not, sometimes because they do not have faith that it will truly be temporary. They fear being forgotten - because they've felt forgotten before. This is one reason why many residents are still in hotels, despite the difficulty of all living in one single room. Others do not want the upheaval of moving twice, so would rather wait where they are for a permanent home. Given the disruption they have already been through, this is completely understandable. 

Frustratingly, other residents have been made offers that are simply not right for them. These include people with disabilities who wouldn't be able to fully access the accommodation offered. Initially we saw clients who were concerned they'd be forced to move away from their support networks and families - as is all too common for homeless people in London.

Of course, the other critical backdrop is the fact that the council simply doesn't have the homes it needs to rehouse survivors quickly. Like others all over the country, the area is sorely lacking in social housing. The council has been buying up properties for Grenfell families - which is the right thing to do, but does by its nature take time.

The council has said it expects everyone to be moved into permanent homes by next summer.  Believe it or not, this is swift compared to how homeless people in London are usually  dealt with – but of course feels frustratingly slow for survivors who just want to bring some safety and comfort back to their lives so they can begin the process of finding some sense of wellbeing again.

Grenfell has exposed a breakdown in relations between tenants and their landlords that should concern us all. It is clear that residents felt like second class citizens. We should not accept that anyone in our communities is treated in that way. 

So we must not lose sight of the fact that as a country we need a national conversation which asks wider questions about social housing more widely than just Kensington & Chelsea, including issues like the lack of social housing, the conditions that people live in, and whether social tenants feel powerless.

It is time to examine the role of social housing in creating inclusive and united communities, where no one is second class and where people have faith in those who are meant to protect them. If we don’t do this, we’ll fail to protect the people desperate for change in the wake of this tragedy

Polly Neate is the chief executive of the housing charity Shelter. 

Show Hide image

Like many others, Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba was left in charge of a failing aircraft

Ony when enough hospitals shut down, and do so often, will those with true responsibility properly resource the NHS. 

The day Leicester trainee paediatrician Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba was struck off by the High Court for her involvement in the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt posted a tweet expressing his deep concern about possible unintended consequences of the ruling. He was referring specifically to the impact on patient safety.

At a stroke, efforts to build a culture of open learning – a cause Hunt champions – had been set back decades. You don’t get people to talk honestly about critical mistakes by threatening them with prison and professional ruin.

There may be other consequences that Hunt didn’t anticipate. Comparisons with another safety-critical industry – aviation – are instructive. On the day Jack died, from undiagnosed sepsis, Bawa-Garba was functioning as would a first officer on an aircraft. The plane’s captain was elsewhere, training other pilots on a simulator in a different city. The chief steward had failed to report for duty, so Bawa-Garba was expected to oversee cabin service as well as fly the plane single-handed.

The aircraft’s IT systems had gone down, meaning one of the stewardesses was permanently occupied looking out of the window to ensure they didn’t collide with anything. Another stewardess was off sick, and her replacement was unfamiliar with the type of plane and its safety systems. And Bawa-Garba herself had just returned from a year’s maternity leave. She’d done quite a lot of flying in the past, though, and the airline clearly believed she could slot straight back into action – they arranged no return-to-work programme, dropping her in at the deep end.

Not one of us would agree to be a passenger on that flight, yet that kind of scenario is commonplace in hospitals throughout the country. Critically ill patients have no awareness of how precarious their care is, and would have no choice about it if they knew. Since the Bawa-Garba ruling, doctors have been bombarding the General Medical Council (GMC) for advice as to what they should do when confronted with similarly parlous working conditions.

The GMC’s response has been to issue a flowchart detailing whom medics should tell about concerns. But it has failed to confirm that doing so would protect doctors should a disaster occur. Nor does it support worried doctors simply refusing to work under unsafe conditions. This is akin to telling the first officer they must inform the airline that things are bad, very bad, but that they still have to fly the plane regardless.

Jeremy Hunt has responded to the crisis by announcing an urgent review into gross negligence manslaughter, the offence of which Bawa-Garba was convicted. This is welcome, and long overdue, but it still serves to retain the focus on individuals and their performance, and keeps attention away from the failing systems that let down doctors and patients daily.

An action by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin is, arguably, more important than Hunt’s review. The organisation has written to Leicestershire police requesting that they investigate Bawa-Garba’s hospital trust for alleged corporate manslaughter. I sincerely hope a prosecution follows. I’m no fan of litigation, but change is only going to come when those who manage the NHS know that they are going to carry the can when things go wrong.

We need clear statements of what constitute minimum acceptable staffing levels, both in terms of numbers, and training and experience. When departments, or even whole hospitals, fall below these – or when unexpected problems such as IT failures occur – managers, faced with the real prospect of corporate lawsuits, will close the unit, rather than keep operating in unsafe conditions, as routinely occurs.

Only when enough hospitals shut down, and do so often, will those with true responsibility – Jeremy Hunt and the rest of the Conservative government – finally act to resource the health service properly. 

This would be an unintended consequence from the Dr Bawa-Garba case that would be welcome indeed. 

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist