[Updated below] The utter tragedy of the death of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who put the hoax call through to a colleague who gave very little and very modest information to callers whose identity neither had reason to doubt and who were enquiring after the Duchess of Cambridge’s health, is being quite wrongly blamed on the hoaxers.
Everyone is entitled to have a laugh – this was no grave matter anyway – and to see if they can fool the watchdogs.
These were a couple of jokey Aussie radio presenters who found themselves somewhere they never expected to be – on the phone to the very ward where the young Duchess was being cared for.
And it was a laugh. The accents they delivered were hilarious but they did convey the strained vocal chords and the whine adopted by the upper classes as a mark of distinction.
The presenters cannot be blamed in any way for having a go to see how far they would get before, as they expected, being told to get lost.
Where is the sense in following one fatality with the persecution of yet more innocents? Yet many of today’s papers are whipping up something of a blood frenzy against the hapless jokers. This is mindless and a craven avoidance of asking the questions that do need to be asked of the hospital.
Management at the King Edward VII hospital and the royal security team’s routines were clearly at fault.
Yes, the Duchess was rushed in as an emergency admission – but this is a hospital regularly serving as the point of care for royals and assorted VIPs. It must have – it ought to have – standard routines in place for dealing with telephone enquiries on such cases and for managing the proper transmission of information.
It would appear, from what is know, that no such systems were in place and that neither switchboard nor nursing staff had been given any guidelines – never mind familiarisation training – of any kind to inform how they dealt with the situations in which they found themselves.
The switchboard put the caller through, clearly with no instructions not to do so; and the nurse on the ward, with the call through to her, had no reason not to respond to the enquiries. [If, as is now being said, Ms Saldanha was manning a switchboard, this seems an inappropriate use of qualified and experienced nursing staff, particularly in a hospital where access is a specialist issue. Was this an ill-judged doubling up of mismatched responsibilities to save money?]
When the hoax itself was known, the hospital management was very quick to downplay its own responsibility and to wrinkle its corporate nose at the distasteful antics of a couple of antipodean radio presenters. Come on.
The hospital has been in the business of blame transfer from the outset on a matter which was never anywhere near the level of life and death it has become.
We ask why a woman who was a highly competent and mature nurse would take her own life – as she is said to have done – had she not been made to feel utterly culpable and to see herself as facing worrying consequences?
No one takes their life lightly.
The press were not screaming for her head – they do have more sense. There was nothing like any public outcry over the amusing and hardly world shattering errors the unguided hospital staff had committed.
The hospital is saying with great piety that it had not suspended the nurse nor initiated disciplinary proceedings against her – and had been ‘supporting’ her through the event. If Ms Saldanha had been receiving genuine support, she would have felt no compulsion to do what she appears to have done.
The hospital management will know itself just what ear bashing the unfortunate nurse had received. She may not have had action commenced against her – but what had she been threatened with?
It is inconceivable that Ms Saldanha had not been internally interviewed after the event; and, given the action she is said now to have taken, it is inconceivable that such sessions had not left her in profound distress. The institution had, as above, already evidenced its willingness to blame others for its own shortcomings.
The responsibility for everything to do with the heart of this chain of events lies immovably with the King Edward VII hospital management.
It is essentially nothing at all to do with a couple of young radio presenters having a giggle. Why ever not?
The media and their audiences
The media and their audiences must also ask themselves whether the pregnancy and the consequential illness of one young woman should ever be so vastly beyond the scale of normal interest in the pregnancies and illnesses suffered by hordes of other woman every day?
We may like – even enjoy – some royals more than others – but the reality is that they occupy token positions of pomp and ceremony but little substance through accident of birth.
If the young Duchess were to remain childless, by choice or by chemistry, it would be of no national consequence whatsoever. The system provides alternatives for the succession.
For as long as we persist with what is essentially an anachronistic hierarchical system, we will take what occupant of the throne fate and protocol give us. Why do we maintain so obsessive, hysterical and juvenile an interest in people we do not know but upon whom we try to print the characteristics and plotlines of trash romantic fiction?
If we leave them to get on with their lives and pop up to cut ribbons as and when, the press too will leave them alone for our lack of interest.
We should remember that they don’t choose to be where they are any more than we choose them. But our silly predilection for celebrity and poor management at an elite hospital that should have done much better, have now together cost a life. For what?
Update 14.15: Astonishingly and in a continuing blame-shifting effort, the Chair of the King Edward VII hospital, Lord Glenarthur, has now written to the Chair of the Australian radio station nailing the fault for Ms Saldanha’s death on the station. And no one else – no one else – is raising any questions whatsoever on the hospitals own, and central, responsibilities.