Going Postal

In which The Author gets a strictly second-class service

I don’t have a great deal of faith in the Royal Mail any more.
For the past few years, Mother’s birthday cards have always arrived at least a day late, even when I’ve sent them in good time. Back in the bad old days of my shoulder problem, I travelled to Llandough Hospital at the crack of dawn for an outpatients’ clinic, only to be told that my appointment had been rescheduled. When I arrived home some hours later, the letter with the new appointment was waiting on my doormat – having been posted over a week earlier. At least one appointment letter from the hospital never arrived at all, meaning that I was dropped from the physiotherapy waiting list.
From my point of view, the most notorious piece of missing paperwork also involved the medical profession. It was a Suspension of Studies form from the University of Glamorgan, countersigned by my GP. It vanished into the Rift some time during the Spring of 2011, and cost me my place in the repeated second year (see Everything Changes.)
Last Friday I had a mid-morning appointment with my GP, to review my current medication and get a medical certificate to send to the Joke Jobcentre. All went well; Dr Wardrop and I chatted for a while as usual, and when he came to sign my certificate, I asked him I could be a bit cheeky. I explained that Dr Mahmoud usually signs a paper for a month, but a four-week paper would take me into the middle of the Xmas/New Year holidays. I didn’t want to risk my paperwork getting snarled up in a backlog over Xmas, and Dr Wardrop agreed that I had a point. He signed a paper for two months, and I left the surgery at about 11 a.m.
I went to Servini’s for a cup of hot chocolate, filled in my part of the paperwork, put in the pre-paid envelope (making sure that the address was visible through the window) and posted it in the pillar box just opposite the café when I’d finished. It was in good time for the lunchtime collection, so I didn’t think any more of it.
My mobile phone finally reappeared on Monday night (see The Angels Have the Phone Box.) It had somehow fallen behind my desk, where I couldn’t see it, and where it was barely on the network. At about ten o’clock I heard the double-beep that signals an incoming text. I assume that texts don’t require as much bandwidth as calls, and so they can sneak nippily through the network like a motorbike in the rush hour. That helped me locate it, wedged in an awkward spot, and I had to move the desk to retrieve it.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that I had a string of unanswered calls and unread texts, as I’d put a message on Facebook on Sunday, asking my friends to ring me so that I could listen out for it. I checked through the texts – nothing very exciting – and put it in a safe place.
On Wednesday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t had a text which I was expecting. The Jobcentre usually sends an automated text when it receives my paperwork, which is a very sensible idea. (This could be the first time I’ve used the words ‘Jobcentre’ and ‘sensible idea’ in the same sentence, by the way.) That’s why I spent a pound listening to bloody Vivaldi (see The Return of Dial-a-Disc) before walking into Aberdare and using the phone in the Jobcentre. I explained to the lady in the call centre that I hadn’t had the acknowledgement text as usual, and that I was getting a bit concerned. She told me not to worry, and that it could take anything up to five working days to reach the correct department, by the time it worked its way through the DWP’s internal post as well.
By midday today I still hadn’t had the automated text, so I rang the surgery and explained the problem. I asked if I’d be able to get a duplicate certificate, back-dated to last Friday, which I could send first class before the last collection today. The receptionist checked, and told me that I’d be able to pick it up at the start of afternoon surgery, after four o’clock.
I walked into town, and wondered whether to ring the Jobcentre ‘help’line again, to let them know what had happened. I figured that they might be able to make a note on my file, saying that the original paperwork had gone astray and that a copy was to follow. The last thing I need at this time for year is for my money to be delayed thanks to an act of Goddess.
I decided against calling in, since my call on Wednesday would probably have been logged on the system anyway. (Do you see how much faith I put in these people? It’s quite touching, isn’t it?) Instead, I came to the Library and logged onto the wifi. Here’s something interesting: they’ve upgraded their system (slightly) so that the connection is more reliable than hitherto. It’s no faster, but it’s more reliable. That’s better than nothing, mind…
I read some of the many online tributes to Nelson Mandela, who died last night at the grand age of 95. When I was a student the first time around, our Union building was called the Mandela Building. I spent many a happy hour in there, often looking at the photos of Madiba with extracts from his speeches and writings. I even spent a couple of hours at the eternal candlelit vigil outside South Africa House when I was in the centre of London. I added a few words to one of the online books of condolence, and then started doing the crossword.
My phone beeped while I was reading through the clues. It was a text from the Jobcentre, advising me that they’d received my paperwork and that my money would be paid as usual. That’s a full seven days since I posted it, and definitely five working days at their end (they should have received it on Monday, after all.) How big is their bloody office, if it takes a full week for a piece of A4 paper to arrive on the correct desk? I’m fairly sure they must have access to a fax machine, or maybe even a scanner and internal email addresses. Failing that, there must be someone in the post room who is responsible for sorting the incoming mail and sending it to the right office. As with their call centre which took forever to answer on Wednesday, perhaps they need to invest in extra staff in order to make things run more efficiently. Or, maybe, they just need to get their fucking act together. One or the other.
Meanwhile, there’s been another beautiful example of a bureaucratic fuck-up within the last two weeks. Martin H. finally received the official response to his complaint against Cwm Taf Local Health Board in the post a little while ago. That’s opened up a whole new can of worms, but that wasn’t the only thing he had in the post. In the same envelope was a letter addressed to someone living in Cilfynydd.
I probably don’t need to tell you that that’s a very serious breach of the Data Protection Regulations. To my certain knowledge, it’s not the first one which the LHB has perpetrated. I’ve attended a couple of public fora over the past few months, and sat in on meetings of both the LHB and the Community Health Council. I’ll definitely be bringing this matter to their attention during the next meeting. Martin thinks I should get more involved with the CHC; I’m going to look into it after Xmas, when the next round of applications opens.
There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, mind you. Cwm Taf LHB are introducing a system whereby GP referrals will be submitted electronically, and not by letter, thus cutting down the chance of the paperwork going astray in the system. It’s due to come on stream in 2015.
Don’t hold your breath. Only yesterday, Iain Duncan Smith was forced to admit that the full introduction of Universal Credit might not be ready in 2017, as he’d promised when the scheme was first announced. As with all the changes from Twentieth- to Twenty-First Century technology, I’ll believe it when I see it.