Fishy Business or When a Review Should Stop

Fishing Expedition
· Examples· Word Origin

noun, Informal.

1. a legal proceeding mainly for the purpose of interrogating an adversary, or of examining his or her property and documents, in order to gain useful information.

2. any inquiry carried on without any clearly defined plan or purpose in the hope of discovering useful information.

So, imagine you are a well paid, supposedly professional and experienced HR manager, (let’s say you have the initials of CJ), who knows the difference between a haddock and a kipper, who has been given orders from your Business Manager (with perhaps the initials of CW), who in turn has had instruction from the Chief Finance Officer and the Police and Crime Commissioner.

You have been tasked to send review notifications out to disabled former officers who have had no contact from the force since retiring due to injury on duty for at least a minimum of 12 years ago and some, in fact most, who have been out of the job for 15 to 20 years. You’ve been told to start a programme of reviewing injury pensions, beginning with those which have the potential to cost the most over the long term. According to the bean counters, who have less knowledge than even you of the Regulations governing police injury pensions, these are the pensions which offer the tempting best prospect of providing the greatest savings – if only a way can be found to reduce the payments. It might take a bit of imagination, but let’s say, for instance, that you could get a patsy in the form of a ‘duly qualified medical practitioner’ who would be prepared, in return for a fat fee of around £500 a time, to find a way around the ethics of the medical profession and the Regulations and declare that this person and that person has had a miraculous substantial improvement in their disability. Bingo! Kerching! Three cherries in a row! Done up like a kipper!

You know nothing about these disabled former officers, as in many instances no personnel records exist, having been destroyed due to the force’s retention policy. And there’s no way you are allowed to view the occupational health records due to an irritating little impediment called the Data Protection Act. You can’t quite understand why anyone would object to letting you read all about their private personal medical history. Patient confidentiality – it’s a bugger, (shame that). You only know these people are on band four so are severely disabled in regards to earning capacity. The fact that some may have mental illness such that that the stress of a review could send them into a catastrophic life changing adverse reaction. Tough, you think, much as did the train driver to Belsen-Bergen, I’ve got a job to do, and by golly I’ll do it no matter who objects.

Do you pause for a moment and think that it might be appropriate to ask the force medical officer to review the medical notes the force does have, to see if a review is in fact appropriate? No, that would be the right thing to do, but you’ve got targets imposed on you by the higher powers. The train is in motion and you can’t stop it – more than your job is worth – someone else’s responsibility. You may have even been told that everyone retired with an injury on duty award are earning 6 figure salaries and driving Porche Cayennes and ought to be reviewed – how dare they be retired on an ‘award’ you might think.

So you send the letters out. But not before you spice the letters up and say you are reviewing the recipient due to the financial constraints to the force is under. Nothing like telling them your agenda from the start. As an added incentive to make the pensioners take your cunning plan seriously, you throw in a questionnaire which asks them how many cars they drive and how much they earn and threatens them with either prosecution if they make an error with their answers or reduction or suspension of their injury award if they mess you about. Never mind there is no lawful way of doing that – they won’t know as they are just dumb ex-cops. And, oh, while I am at it, can I have your signed permission to contact the DHS and HMRC so I can get to see how much money you have?

You realise that you might be onto a sticky wicket when the former officers start asking questions. Like, why are we being reviewed now? You have ignored me and my welfare for the last twenty years so why the sudden interest? Where is the individual case by case objectivity? You give out some baloney about a SMP will look at your medical records and decide whether a review is actually required (whilst crossing your fingers behind your back), fully aware that your pet stooge SMP fully intends to interrogate every single one of them without exception no matter what they say.

Despite having no circumstances to justify a review, no evidence to indicate whether there has been any improvement in any individual’s degree of disablement, no evidence of the substantial alteration needed by law before an injury pension can be revised, you know that your SMP will find the ‘evidence’ by hook or by crook. He’ll even try to con his way into getting agreement to let him look at medical records that date from birth to see if he can give his expert opinion that the back injury was given by the midwife’s forceps, not during the reported polacc.

But you come across a problem. You’ve made someone extremely ill as a direct response of your actions. Someone who has just been trying to survive for the past 15 years, barely hanging on to life by their fingernails and who can’t deal with the process. If you’d got the force medical officer to read the notes beforehand you would had known that this person’s health is in such a delicate state that he is unreviewable. Nevertheless, you think that what you haven’t bothered to look into you can’t be blamed for, so you demand he attends the occupational health unit and you get your SMP to grill him like a turbot for 90 minutes anyway.

The mental anguish of someone already suffering from PTSD means they are unable to deal with abnormal events such as a review. The experience is so traumatic that after the grilling by the SMP they have to go to the community mental health crisis team. The relapse is huge and his clinicians write to you to say this person is no better this year than he was last year, or the year before that, or the year before that. In fact, the duty injury ruined his life and his health and your review is making things worse. But you wouldn’t know, because you and your predecessors have not bothered to enquire after him or to ask him how he is coping. This person is borderline suicidal. Clinicians write to you some more, pleading for you to back off. But you and your tame SMP are adamant that just because an expert psychologist says someone has deteriorated there is no reason to believe it.

So you’ve waited a year since first notifying the intention to review and 6 months since dragging this person before the SMP. He must be stewed enough now you think. You have a brainwave. Send him a letter saying he is too ill to be reviewed now but you’ll postpone the review for 3 months until there is some improvement. Yes that’ll do it. If these people aren’t better then we will wait until they are better! Brilliant! No matter how long that takes I’ll keep the review open until I get the result I want. Why ever end a review with a decision when we can keep a review going for infinity? Don’t have to bother with a suitable interval or a PMAB appeal this way, I will surely get my bonus this year, you think, and maybe some recognition from the HR professional associations. Sheer HR genius – I ought to write up a presentation on this to give to the next meeting of the NAMF. Nothing fishy about that.

Note: This is a true story and the protagonist HR professional is employed by Avon & Somerset Constabulary.

NB: The sassy gallows humour tone of this post is a front to cope with the true fiendish actions of HR. It is no way intended to lessen, or be disrespectful of, the horrendous affect it is all having on the former officer mentioned.

Fishy Business or When a Review Should Stop
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