12 November 2009

Administrative cruelty

What happened? My Dad died on Monday morning, about 07:15. I'd been due to start a new contract at 09:00 after a year without serious work. The hospital called at 07:10. Instead of heading to work, I drove to Salisbury, and on the way, took a phone call from the hospital, confirming what I'd expected. Arriving there, I did what was needed, including contacting my brothers before the body was removed to the mortuary.

What happened next? The medical certificate wasn't ready until Tuesday afternoon. The doctor had gone home after working the weekend, and nobody else could write up the paperwork.

And so? To register the death and arrange the funeral, I needed the medical certificate and an appointment with the Registrar of Births Marriages and Deaths in Salisbury. Knowing that the certificate should be ready, I called the number given by the Salisbury District Hospital bereavement booklet. It turned out to be a number in Trowbridge, not the local Register Office.

Guess what! The lady on the line asked me lots of questions and then concluded that I'd need to speak Salisbury Register Office to make an appointment. She wasn't empowered to do anything except pass me through. But their number was engaged. If I'd been given their number, I could use Ring Back to connect me as soon as they became free. "But we don't offer Ring Back on that number!".

So we had a little discussion about the meaning of life, and she tried again. Still engaged. And then the excruciating moment. "I could take your number and then they should get back to you within 24 hours". At this point, I thought my head would explode. I explained to the lady on the line that I would call her back in 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and so on until I had my appointment. We talked, and at the fourth attempt, she put me through.

Finally, speaking to the Register Office, I reached someone with competence and who was actually able to help me. We arranged the appointment, and I was able to register the death that had happened 30 hours before. By the way, none of the information that I had given to Trowbridge was passed on to the Register Office. So the whole imposition of the call centre was completely pointless for the 'client'.

One of my brothers remarked that if Dad had been a Muslim, it would all have been done and dusted by sunset the previous day.

I cannot praise enough the feeling of safety and reassurance given by the staff at Salisbury Register Office. They know how to deal with real people. But I feel that the imposition of a call centre that is not empowered to do anything positive between the bereaved 'client' and the service provider is cruel, pointless, costly, negative, foul and criminal.

Now it may be that this is an interim stage in the centralisation of bookings into Trowbridge. If that happens, then there is a point to the call centre. But until it happens, it is (to repeat myself) cruel, pointless, costly, negative, foul and criminal.

I'm not a Wiltshire ratepayer. I live in Hampshire, my father lived in (East) Dorset, but Salisbury and its crematorium are in Wiltshire, and the focal point for all of the stages of the process. Wiltshire County Council have introduced a disgraceful and cruel process to stop bereaved families from meeting their statutory obligation - to register the death. Shame on you.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm. A detailed reply from Frank Coleman, Customer Services Operations Manager at Wiltshire Council. Apologies, the introduction of a dedicated line for death enquiries, but it looks as though the call centre is still an intermediary in the process even when the 'customer' knows exactly where the death must be registered and just wants to get on with making an appointment. Maybe an improvement, but I'm unlikely to need to test this.

    I've written back with my detailed views. We'll see what happens.


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