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The DVLA Saga

One of the annoying aspects of this stroke has been the slow response from the DVLA.

Because I had a seizure the day after the stroke I had to report this to the DVLA so they could decide if I could drive. Normally, according to the DVLA rules an unprovoked seizure is an automatic one year ban but "Epileptic attacks occurring at the time of a stroke/TIA or in the ensuing 24 hours may be treated as provoked for licensing purposes in the absence of any previous seizure history or previous cerebral pathology".

The issue for me is that I had an epileptic fit nine years ago, so I do have a "previous seizure history", so they might choose not to honour this clause. I didn't know. And neither did my GP.

Over three months after the stroke and almost three months since I first notified them I still didn't know if I was allowed to drive. As a result on 09/05/02 I invoked their complaints procedure and sent this email.

Subject: Slow response from DVLA From: Paul Oldham To: csm.dvla(at)gtnet.gov.uk Your ref: 04/SAT/M715888 Dear Mr Brock On Sunday 3rd February 2002 I had a minor stroke and the following day, Monday 4th February, I had a seizure, shortly after having a cerebral angiogram. Because of the seizure I was told by my GP that I needed to report these events to you and I was not to drive until the DVLA had considered my case. I did so in a letter to you on 15th February. After a couple of weeks you responded with a form for me to fill in so my GP and consultant could give you my medical history. I returned that form to you. There was then silence for two months during which time I have recovered to the point where both my partner and myself would be happy for me to drive, but I've not done so because I was told by my GP we had to wait for you. On 15th April you wrote to me to say my consultant had yet to reply. When I got your letter on 22nd April I phoned you to ask what I could do about it only to be told that you had now received the report from the consultant and that it would take some time for you to consider it. I explained to the woman I spoke to that we were intending to go on a long planned driving tour of Scotland on [deleted] which we now only intended to do if we could both drive. We needed to know for certain one way or the other soon as, if I wasn't able to drive, we needed to make other plans. She sympathised and said she would mark my case as "priority" but that it would still take "one to two weeks". Fair enough, we thought, that would still give us [deleted] before our departure date to decide. Two weeks passed. This Tuesday, 7th May, I phoned again only to be told that it would take "at least one to two weeks" before you would reach a decision. I explained, again, our situation. "Oh" he said "well, we've not actually asked for your licence back, so as long as you and your GP are happy, then you can drive". I was gobsmacked by this reply but accepted it at face value (while wondering why I wasn't told this two weeks ago) and booked an appointment with my GP, only to be told by him that as I'd had a seizure only *you* could decide if I could drive again, not he. We have now cancelled our holiday and are trying, at short notice, to find a suitable alternative. I write therefore to complain about the service I'm receiving from the DVLA on several grounds: 1. That it took two months for you to tell me that the consultant was being slow. If you had told me sooner I would have chased him up myself. 2. That the person I spoke to during my first phone call claimed my case was being marked as priority when the subsequent phone call made it clear it was not. 3. That the person I spoke to during my second phone call led me on a wild goose chase wasting both my and, more importantly, my GP's time. 4. That almost three months after I first wrote to you I still can't drive, despite being perfectly capable of doing so, and have had to cancel a holiday I've been looking forward to for ages which I may, or may not, have had to do if you'd have sorted this case out by now. Yours sincerely Paul Oldham [address and phone number]

I had a holding reply the following day by email.

A few days later I finally for the news I had been waiting for, and it wasn't good. They were taking my licence away for a year because of the seizure and because my consultant "has also indicated that you currently have a visual field loss". Where he got that idea from is something of a mystery as I have no visual field loss now and I don't remember having one at all, but our friend at Addenbrookes says he does remember me having one in the first couple of days.

So that was that.

Two days later I got a letter in response to my complaint. It apologised for the long delay. It was clear from the letter that they're completely overworked. For example when they got my consultant's letter it took nine days for anyone to look at it at all.

It went on to claim that my case was prioritised after my first call (odd, given that the second person I spoke to didn't mention it but whatever) and I got the distinct impression that it was the complaint that had finally kicked them into action.

I wrote again on 16th May, in response to the letter taking my licence away, saying:

Thank you for your letter dated 13th May. You say at the end that I should write to you if I have any further medical evidence or information which may be relevant.

Let me deal first with the visual field loss. I currently have no visual field loss. I can only think that this was a short lived phenomena immediately after the stroke as I have no memory of having an visual field loss at any time. I did have nystagmus in my right eye for a few days after the stroke, but that had gone by the time I was discharged from hospital and has not recurred. Perhaps it's this to which the consultant is referring but the bottom line is that my vision is now unaffected by the stroke. My GP will be able to confirm this if required.

However your letter suggests that the fundamental issue is the seizure. This seizure occurred more or less exactly 24 hours after the stroke.

My understanding both from my GP and from the "At A Glance" guide on your web site is that epileptic attacks occurring at the time of a stroke/TIA or in the ensuing 24 hours may be treated as provoked for licensing purposes in the absence of any previous seizure history or previous cerebral pathology.

And in Annex 3 is says For [Group I drivers], provoked or symptomatic seizures, apart from those caused or precipitated by alcohol or illicit drug misuse, can be dealt with on an individual basis by DVLA if there is no previous seizure history.

Having read these I rather hoped that the DVLA would treat the seizure as provoked and would allow me to continue to drive. I wasn't aware that my consultant was telling you I had a visual field loss however, so perhaps that's why you felt you had to make the decision the way you have.

I don't want to bother my GP again unless there is some point in doing so, but if having confirmation that I have no visual field loss would change your decision please tell me and I'll ask him to write to you again.

Yours sincerely

Paul Oldham

A month and a half later I had had no response to this letter so wrote again on 5th July reminding them I was waiting for a reply. Two weeks later I got a reply (dated 15th July) saying that "Unfortunately, due to the volume of work at the Agency there has been a delay in replying to you. I can assure you that your letter will be dealt with as quickly as possible and a reply will be with you soon".

They clearly have some different definition of "soon" to me as by early August I had still not had a reply (yes, that's three months for them to reply to my letter). So on 12th August I phoned them and spoke to one Colin Rees who, to his credit, was horrified at the delay I'd experienced. He says that when they got my chasing letter my case was put on their "quickie procedure", but that's a month ago now so he couldn't explain why I'd not had a reply. He said he would chase it himself. I asked him what I could do to help them: they're clearly overworked and understaffed. Should I write to my MP? No, he said, the best thing you can do is raise a formal complaint. So I did. Again.

Subject: Slow response from DVLA From: Paul Oldham To: csm.dvla(a)gtnet.gov.uk Your ref: M715888 Dear Mr Brock Three months on from my last complaint I again find myself having to complain about the service I'm getting from the DVLA. After my last complaint I finally received a letter from Dr Prasad dated 13th May. He said at the end that I should write to him if I have any further medical evidence or information which may be relevant. As I wasn't happy with the report from my consultant, which appeared to either have been wrong or misinterpreted I wrote on 16th May saying as much. Three months later I have still not had a reply to this letter, despite having sent a chasing letter, together with another copy if the original, on 5th July. I did get a holding reply from Mrs Gunter (07/JAG/M715888) dated 15th July which claimed a reply would be with me "soon". Another month on and still nothing. I have chased by phone today and spoke to Colin Rees who assures me that he will chase this up again. However *regardless* of the outcome of his efforts I want to complain to you that, yet again, the DVLA is taking an inordinately long time to deal with my case. I continue to be well, with no apparent sight loss, and the only seizure I had fell within the 24 hour period where your doctors can use their discretion. There is therefore a reasonable possibility that you may return my licence earlier than the one year. However at the moment by the time you finish considering my letter the one year will be up in any case! Yours sincerely Paul Oldham [address and phone number]

Again I had a rapid acknowledgement and I now await the results.

Meanwhile within three days of phoning up I actually got a response, so full marks to Colin Rees for Doing The Right Thing. The news wasn't good though (this is OCRed, some any typos are probably down to that):

Thank you for your letter of the 16th May and subsequent reminder of the 5th July addressed to my colleague, Dr Prasad, who is away on annual leave. Hence, I am replying on her behalf.

I can only apologise for the long and obviously frustrating delay which has occurred in responding to your letter. This is due to the high volumes of casework waiting attention by Medical Advisers.

Firstly, let me deal with the issue of possible visual field loss. Your Consultant completed one of our questionnaires on the 6th April 2002 and indicated that you did have a field loss involving both eyes. This was described as a right homonymous hemianopia. Our normal policy in a case where an individual might have lost visual fields, is to arrange for an Optometrist to chart them in order to determine whether the minimum standards for safe driving are met. However, this action was no taken in your case because there were already grounds for revoking your licence.

The reason why my colleague made a recommendation that your licence should be withdrawn with the requirement that there should be a one year period of freedom from further attacks before relicensing, was that the event in February was not an isolated one. Our records indicate that you had a prior fit in 1993. This meant that my colleague took the view that the epileptic attack which occurred on the 4th February 2002 following your stroke could not be regarded as an isolated provoked event. The view was taken that you had a predisposition to epileptic attacks and hence that a one year period of observation was appropriate.

I hope that this provides some explanation for the basis of the decision that was made in your case and also that you will be able to regain your licence at the earliest opportunity.

Yours sincerely

Dr P Lyne

I had feared this outcome from the start, despite the registrar saying that the previous fit I'd had in 1993 could not be related to the cavernoma which they think caused the stroke. Still at least I know where I stand now. I'm just pissed off that it's taken six months to get to this point.

As for the "right homonymous hemianopia", well that's loss of vision in the right visual field in both eyes. Web sites I've looked at suggest if you've got it you would be very aware of it. I'm not aware of anything like that so I'm still a bit bemused, however I'm due a check up next month so I'll ask my optician.

Meanwhile there was still the email complaint to Mr Brock. After ten days I hadn't had a reply from him so on 22nd August I escalated it and wrote to Clive Bennett, the DVLA chief executive, as per their complaints procedure. It's a long letter, much of it re-interating what you've read above but if you want to read it it's here.

In closing I wrote:

Meanwhile, as of today, ten days after complaining for the second time to Mr Brock, I have not had a reply from him or one of his managers, which I suppose shouldn't surprise me given the response times I've seen from the DVLA thus far. I'm therefore escalating my complaint to you as per the procedure outlined on your web site.

I would like to know what is going on. I don't honestly regard "we have high volumes of casework" as an explanation. If you have more work than you can cope with then you need more staff. Why can't you employ more? If you've not got the budget what are you doing to ensure that you do get a bigger budget?

The service you are giving is completely unsatisfactory at the moment. For you to take three months to respond to letters when the person you are dealing with is in a situation through no fault of their own really isn't on. What if your medical advisors had decided in the light of my letter that I could drive? That would have meant I'd been unable to drive for six months because of your ludicrous response times.

A week later as I update this page you will not be surprised to hear that I've heard not word from either Mr Brock or Mr Bennett. Par for the course I'm afraid.

I wrote the above paragraph yesterday (29th August) and today I got a letter from Lindsay Alistair Black of the Customer Enquiries Group of the DVLA, dated yesterday, which says "Mr Clive Bennett has asked me to inform you that your letter dated 22 August is receiving attention". If I was paranoid I'd assume someone was reading this web page, but I suspect the sad reality is that it means they've finally got around to reading my letter (previous experience, the consultant's letter for example, suggests that it can take a week for a letter to even be read) and therefore have sent an acknowledgement as per their procedure.

I finally got a reply a couple of days later, dated 30th August. Not from Mr Bennett but from Dr Sheppard ("acting Senior Medical Adviser"). He claimed he had to reply because Mr Bennett had no access to me medical records.

Most of the letter was devoted to confirming what I knew already, that the reason for withdrawing my licence was the previous fit. He enclosed copies of the forms I'll need to re-apply in December (I can apply two months in advance).

The letter concluded:

I fully recognise your concern of the time it has taken to deal with your case at various stages. I can assure you that the Agency is committed to improving its performance in this important area of customer service. The recruitment of additional Medical Advisers is one measure that is being taken.

I trust this explains the position and sincerely regret the inconvenience and concern caused by our delay in dealing with your case.

Which at least sounds promising. The proof of the pudding will be when I re-apply of course.

Meanwhile ... I had my eyes tested (and now have a pair of reading glasses ;-)) but the good news is that the optician found no sign whatsoever of that right homonymous hemianopia, which is excellent news.

Getting home

So here's the story of the trip back from visiting my dad in Hampshire this last weekend.  read more ...

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