Mr Bates vs The Post Office – The wider message from the Postmaster scandal

Published: 5 Jan 2024

Categories: Blog

I suspect that I am not the only person who has been gripped by the recent ITV mini-series, Mr Bates vs The Post Office which, across four episodes tells the story of what is now described as the greatest miscarriage of justice to hit the UK – since the last one at least.

Toby Jones, as always, is simply superb in playing the tenacious postmaster (Alan Bates) wronged by the mighty Post Office who are in firm denial that there could be any problems with their new computer system installed in every Postmaster’s outlet across the country. So, when things go wrong, and books don’t balance the answer must be that the Postmasters are fraudulent and the vice-like grip of the unreasonable contract that is in place with them means that the Post Office has all the cards and can destroy their livelihoods – and in some cases entire lives.

Common themes with what we see at AvMA

The series shows in harrowing detail the sheer impact that all of this has on the lives and wellbeing of the many postmasters who get caught up in this catastrophic IT failure. And we see, through the slowly emerging organisation of them, led by Alan Bates, that what they want is identical to what we at AvMA hear all the time from the people who come to us having suffered harm as a consequence of an avoidable medical incident. I describe this as the 5A’s:

Acknowledgement – that there was an error, and something went wrong;

Apology – for the error and which is sincere and not in the form of a standard letter from a faceless bureaucrat;

Action – to ensure there is learning from the mistake so that the same thing won’t happen to others;

Accountability – with the relevant people and organisation taking responsibility for what happened and put things right in the best way it can; and

Access – to support, advocacy and justice.

And like the Postmasters, many of the people we talk to are frustrated. And their harm is compounded because most, if not all of these 5A’s have been ignored by the healthcare provider they are trying to engage with. And like the Post Office, the provider has put “reputation management” above prioritising the 5A’s and doing what’s right for their patients. Poor culture and leadership play a key role here.

British justice to the rescue

We see in this excellent drama how the Postmasters had a misplaced belief that the British justice system would come to their rescue. In fact, the opposite was true, and that system was seemingly complicit in the scandal. And when they did finally manage to get their day in court, the Postmasters found that the funding of litigation is firmly set against claimants for whom it is getting harder and harder to bring any case unless you are super rich. This is something we see more and more especially with changes made last year to bring Fixed Recoverable Costs into play in clinical negligence claims up to £25,000 and which perversely include fatal incidents as well.

But at least there is now a public inquiry. That will fix thing surely. There have been plenty of those into healthcare in this country and the pattern seems to be that any meaningful recommendations (that usually require further investment in the public service) are politely declined (at best) or ignored (at worst) by the government of the day.

Clear objectives combined with tenacity

But it can be better; it does not have to stay like this. We know the system is not working for people and in healthcare it certainly is not right. Alan Bates, and the brave Postmasters who were the core of his support group, had a belief, combined with tenacity that if they kept focused on their objectives then they could get to the truth (and some justice). That is why we at AvMA are focusing on defining our objectives, as part of our next five-year strategy, so that we can be clear on how we can meet the vision we are setting that those affected by medical harm achieve the remedies and healing they need. And, as you can expect from AvMA, we will combine this with the necessary tenacity to try and drive this through. But we can’t do it on our own, so I hope you will lend your support – in whatever way you can think – to help us.


Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) is the UK’s leading patient safety and access to justice charity.  We offer a range of services to patients and families impacted by avoidable medical harm. We are completely independent and rely on volunteers, fundraising and generous donations from supporters to enable us to help patients and bring about change. Find out more at

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