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Laurence Hodge: The NHS and the BBC join forces to tell us they know best about Ashya King


How encouraging it is in these difficult times to see harmony infusing those national institutions that we know to be the envy of the world.  Last Friday brought us a co-production between two of our most cherished jewels in the form of a documentary on BBC TV, which featured Southampton General Hospital, and the case of Ashya King.

Ashya was the little boy being treated for cancer in Southampton last year and whose parents had the effrontery to remove him and seek an alternative form of treatment overseas.  The hospital joined forces with that other cherished institution, the good old British Bobby and, as all this happened before the recent formation of the Hampshire Police elite sausage roll squad, the cops were able to lend a heavy hand.

Thus it was – on the say-so of miffed doctors whose control over a child’s destiny should have trumped that of the parents – that the Kings were pursued to Spain through Interpol with the satisfactory outcome that the parents were jailed for a few days and their son taken into care.  The family was later reunited and allowed to continue to the Czech Republic, a central European state that dares to emerge from decades of central control and defy our proud but rather lacklustre record of health ‘outcomes’.

In the course of all this Southampton General Hospital and its staff received unwelcome attention from the press and unwelcome correspondence from members of the public, some of it no doubt uncomplimentary.

And there the matter would have rested, slipping out of the public consciousness had David Fenton, a health correspondent at the BBC, not put together a show called “Ashya: The Untold Story” that went out on BBC television last Friday evening with the predictable puff-piece at 7.30 on that morning’s Today programme on the radio.

For anyone who heard the five minutes of radio interview with Dr Peter Wilson, “The Untold Story” may also have been the unwatched story because there’s only so much smug obfuscation that a body can endure in a single day.  In a nutshell, the hospital staff had a horrid time because people were phoning in with “pure vitriol” on account of the treatment (no, really) Ashya was receiving.

Like you, I’m forever ringing up hospitals to give them my layman’s view of how their patients should be treated (I find gin a near universal cure) because it must be refreshing and helpful for clinicians to get uninformed opinions like mine.  Had I thought of it, I might well have been one of those who telephoned in but it would certainly never have occurred to me to criticise the medics for getting up a posse to pursue parents declining treatment for their son.  Why worry about the chemo mote when there’s the proton beam?

Could the hospital have acted differently, the Radio 4 interviewer asked?  No, the treatment proposed for Ashya is still the treatment that a similar patient would receive today and although the Kings maintain that Ashya’s cancer has gone, Dr Wilson made it clear that here again they are mistaken and that there’s every chance of recurrence.  So there.

Here’s another story and this is one that Southampton General Hospital would probably prefer to see remain untold and which the crusading BBC reporter David Fenton will not be massaging into a sympathetic documentary.

It’s not that unusual to see a 23-year-old girl lying draped across a number of chairs.  Try one of Britain’s busy airport departure lounges any day of the year. Try Zakynthos airport in the summer after the last charter flight of the day has left. Try Southampton General Hospital’s A&E department in April 2015.

And in this last case think of Jasmin Keatley for whom no bed and not even a trolley was available and for whom three chairs were arranged into a makeshift bunk by another patient in A&E.  Think of her lying there for five hours hooked up to a drip and see if you agree with Jasmin and her mother, Michele, that it felt like being in a field-hospital in Syria and that Jasmin was “left to rot”.

Southampton NHS Foundation Trust has more staff on six-figure salaries than there are days in the year.  What chance we’ll be having Dr Wilson or one of his highly paid colleagues on the radio again explaining complacently that there is an international consensus around the standards of care they provide?

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Laurence Hodge
Laurence Hodge
Laurence Hodge is a regular contributor to The Conservative Woman

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