THE VIEW FROM HERE The departure of Karen Eeles from the Earl Mountbatten Hospice has a very unsavoury whiff about it. Mrs Eeles had been the hospice’s fundraising manager for 11 years until she was required under a restructure to apply for her own job.
Sorry, it appears it wasn’t her own job. The hospice no longer wants a fundraising manager. It wants a “head of income generation”. See what they did there? By giving a job a different name, you can tell the person who thought she was doing it that she actually isn’t, because you’ve dressed it up in a fancier title. Then, when she doesn’t get back her own job (whoops, I mean the other one, bet you never even saw the swap) just show her the door.
The great American showman,
P. T. Barnum (“There’s a sucker born every minute”) couldn’t have come up with a more dextrous piece of legerdemain. Shuffle the jobs like a three-card trick and, hey presto, just as you thought you’d found the lady, she’s disappeared. In Mrs Eeles’s case, off into the sunset with her P45.
I hope she will find some comfort in the number of people who are outraged by this episode, though outrage does not pay the bills when you’ve been chucked out of your job. Oh dear, there I go again. Mrs Eeles was not, of course, dismissed. She just failed to get the post which was sort of like her old one, except with a makeover.
There is absolutely no question of Mrs Eeles having done anything in the past 11 years which would have merited a dismissal. On the contrary, she has worked indefatigably to raise millions for the Island’s hospice, organising the annual Walk the Wight events and spearheading crucial campaigns.
She has turned out to show the hospice’s gratitude at countless events, showing the same conscientiousness whether the cheques were small or large, and smiling her way throughout this arduous remit.
But was her departure actually unfair? The hospice’s management bigwigs have been busy justifying the procedure, with chief executive Tina Harris explaining how the restructure would help improve services and bring good news for the community in terms of new jobs and enhanced services. I bet Mrs Eeles isn’t feeling greatly enhanced, or under any illusion that her failure to come up to scratch as “head of income generation” is particularly good news.
“The number of whole-time equivalents hasn’t altered with the new structure, the only change has been in terms of our expectations of the team,” said Mrs Harris. So she didn’t expect Mrs Eeles would do as good a job as she’d been doing for the past 11 years. Was that it? Who knows? Mrs Harris sounds like a woman more in tune with a spreadsheet than silly little things like bothering about 11 year’s unstinting service.
Two things occur to me. First, creating fancy new job titles usually results in more flaff, waffle, jargon-speak, peering endlessly at computer screens, expense, and general corporate rubbish than was ever the case when people’s job descriptions were expressed in plain English.
Secondly, I am sure Mrs Harris and her team are perfectly comfortable with their methods. After all, this is big business. One cannot afford to be sentimental, not in today’s tough world of commerce. And that’s precisely why we should all feel the chill of a ruthless wind blowing in at what was once the epitome of Island compassion.
Mrs Harris’s strategy may be justified in business terms, even generating all the money the hospice requires. But at what real cost? When Cicely Saunders pioneered the modern hospice movement in this country, her principles went far beyond the relief of physical symptoms, focusing on the patient rather than the disease and offering psychological and spiritual comfort not just to the dying but to their families as well.
Mrs Harris’s management approach seems to concentrate entirely on the disease (corporate inefficiency, staff who do not accord with the new structure), with scant regard for the wider implications of running the hospice like a big-business conglomerate. Just tough luck for the poor suckers whose faces don’t fit.
Trouble is, what happens at the top inevitably filters all the way down the organisation and will eventually reach the bedside of the dying. And that’s when Cicely Saunder’s vision will be so much chaff in the dustbin of those who seek new structures and corporate facelessness.
After the tone, just leave a message
Incidentally, hoping to include details of Mrs Harris’s salary in my adjacent piece, I rang the hospice to inquire.
The nice man on the switchboard (who was probably a volunteer and paid nothing) first put me through to Mrs Harris’s office. Voicemail from her PA.
Then he tried the PA of Erica Campbell-Burt, the hospice’s ‘director of strategy and development’. Voicemail again.
Then Mrs Campbell-Burt’s own extension. Voicemail.
I left three messages for these women. Seven hours later (and still within the working day) I heard nothing from any of them.
Clearly communication, once an important mainstay of hospice care, is not included in the new structure.