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Afrika Green describes how making a complaint led to a colleague getting involved in patient policy at West Suffolk Hospital




Stephen Higgins, a patient at West Suffolk Hospital, now sits on its Patients’ Voice Board and the Future Systems Board. Stephen feels he would have never have had the opportunity to sit on these advisory panels had he not chosen to pursue a complaint raised through PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) from his hospital bed.

The complaint initially concluded no staff misconduct, but there had been concerns about Stephen’s perceived ‘aggression’ towards staff, which security hadn’t verified.

Stephen was upset during the incident but was dismayed that his upset was interpreted as aggression and justified the complaint’s dismissal.

Stephen Higgins, chairman of BSE4BL
Stephen Higgins, chairman of BSE4BL

Stephen, who has been appointed chair of Bury St Edmunds for Black Lives (BSE4BL), has spoken many times about the well-worn racial stereotype of the hyper-aggressive Black man and how it has been used for generations to silence Black voices.

“When you’re Black, and you show any heightened emotions in public, it’s automatically interpreted as aggression,” says Stephen.

Later, Stephen found out that due to the Covid pandemic, there was a suspension of the second stage of the hospital’s complaints process. Dissatisfied, he went on to track down the patient experience manager on social media and requested to speak to her to recount the experience he’d had. It was that conversation that led to Stephen taking such an active role with West Suffolk Hospital.

Afrika Green, of BSE4BL
Afrika Green, of BSE4BL

On reflection, Stephen says he feels it was a mistake to suspend the second stage of the complaints process. Allowing staff to label patients as aggressive without challenge or investigation could lead to real trust issues between the hospital and the community.

“There can be difficulties for people of colour accessing health care, particularly through their treatment and the interpretation of their behaviour,” he says. “There seem to be problems on the frontline. These problems lead to mistrust, and distrust leads to issues like vaccine hesitancy.

While the broader issue may surround providing nurses with adequate training on transcultural nursing to ensure more culturally competent care, Stephen is encouraging more patients to see the positive side of raising a complaint.

For Stephen, navigating the complaints procedure and escalating issues highlighted that senior management does not reflect these old attitudes. The trust itself wants to improve caring for people of colour.

West Suffolk Hospital is launching a co-production community engagement group which will seek to bring the community, patients, charitable and voluntary organisations together to help shape future healthcare in Suffolk. It is a great time to get involved.

“I’m able to influence the way the hospital works, and it has allowed me to feel empowered,” says Stephen, who adds that he feels we should change the way we view public health – we should view them as institutions that serve us.

“People often think you have to go to hospital and just get done what they get done to them, but that’s not the case. We can shape and change them by getting on patient management forums. There are well-funded, resourced programmes designed to listen to service users but they’re not very well publicised, so people don’t know about them,” he says.

Contact your local NHS Patient Advice and Liaison Service to find out how you can be involved in shaping the future of healthcare.

- insta/twitter/facebook @bse4bl | insta @affygreen | Stephen’s Twitter @gigante_ttr

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