Hoaxed nurse tragedy: the buck stops with the hospital

[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.

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24 Responses to Hoaxed nurse tragedy: the buck stops with the hospital

  1. The Australian DJs are in no way responsible for the nurse’s death—but they are responsible for being serious idiots. What kind of person thinks it’s funny to waste hospital employees’ time, or to trick them?

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    • Hoaxing is an idiot thing but so are the slapstick custard-pie ‘comedy’ routines so beloved of many.
      These are just things folk do, How many young folk ring people up and pretend to be someone else for a dare or a gag?

      The hospital, on the other hand, has real questions to answer because it had responsibilities it does not appear to have met – and no one else is asking those questions.

      It is profoundly dishonest to shovel loud blame on two far away young gigglers from another country who neither meant nor did harm. The consequences of their action were an indirect and not a direct cause of what they did.

      They will feel numbed – and, as human beings, they are bound to feel guilt – but they are not responsible for this.

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      • I think you’re shooting from the hip; surely there’s a hoax and there’s a cruel hoax, and this crossed over to vindictive territory. You’ve underestimated the credibility of the two broadcasters. If you’ve ever enquired about someone in intensive care in hospital you’ll find that staff are wary about giving information unless you can prove to their satisfaction that you have a genuine connection with the patient.
        In this case the hospital staff nurse thought she was talking to members of the Royal Family, and
        whatever you or I think of the royal tribe, that’s not Joe Bloggs – is it? how dare you dump the blame on the hospital. What on earth do you suppose the broadcasters thought would be the impact on the nursing staff at being conned in such a spectacular way, in this particular circumstance?

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        • A day of note Robert for two reasons – I agree with your every word and newsie writes her nastiest piece of work ever.
          The phone call at 5.30 am had to be answered – it could have been to notify of an incoming ill patient. The nurse who answered it for that reason was probably nearing the end of a long shift and was tired and like most us not too open to a scam phone call at that time in the morning.
          However – be aware – should you be visiting an ill relative in hospital and be surprised to be told by the nurse that you had just been on the phone – you now know – it was possibly just newsie having a bit of girly fun.

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        • “If you’ve ever enquired about someone in intensive care in hospital you’ll find that staff are wary about giving information unless you can prove to their satisfaction that you have a genuine connection with the patient”

          Robert, I agree with this but the procedure is very grey, certainly wide open to manipulation or abuse. There is no id handed over, no password to quote, no mothers maiden name before nurse in charge of ward reveals what may in some cases be quite personal information, too many assumptions. Those taking calls from concerned family members have to make a difficult judgement, what a minefield, and as a result, highlighting failings in what has always been a poor system.
          Of course the two radio presenters cannot be blamed, “a cruel hoax” in what way does it differ from any other hoax that sets it aside as cruel? Kids calling the fire service out to a fire which does not exist is very irresponsible, daft as has the potential for genuine call outs to be compomised but cannot be called cruel. A hoax caller calling the hospital and leaving a recuperating patient bad news would be cruel as there would be intent to upset. Both these examples are quite different from the two presenter’s actions. Had Ms Saldanha not taken her life this would have been yesterday’s chippy wrapper, the hospital in questionn would hopefully have learned some lessons, other hospitals probably not.
          I can’t help but think that as Ms Saldanha is of Indian descent could it be that she may have been seen to have brought shame on her family as reputation and honour is extreley important in Indian culture.
          We can at this stage only speculate as to why she took her life but have to fully agree with Newsroom here regarding blame (also the hysteria surrounding the pregnancy) as nobody could possibly have predicted this outcome from what would normally have been a harmless if mischievious prank.
          It will not be easy to avoid a recurrence of a breach of confidentiality such as this in any hospital but should not deter from tightening this system up a bit.

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          • What an outragous comment !!! “I can’t help but think that as Ms Saldanha is of Indian descent could it be that she may have been seen to have brought shame on her family as reputation and honour is extreley important in Indian culture”…

            “We can at this stage only speculate as to why she took her life ….” speculate ! why speculate…this is not a trial by the public…

            Three facts: The media again have gone too far, something now indemic in kitch media…and a prank has ended tragically.
            The Hospital…should have had better security…
            The poor lady is dead…


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  2. I blame the execs at the radio station (aswell as the hospitals security measures) who allowed this to go to air without realising (or caring?) there would be serious consequences for the nurses involved.

    They should have realised early on that they had gone too far, handed over the tapes and allowed the hospital to deal with it quietly in house rather than broadcasting it to the world over and over.

    Seriously, 1 woman dead, 2 children left motherless, a husband widowed and numerous careers ruined and for what? a cheap giggle?

    What a tragic waste.

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    • It cannot be said to be ‘for a cheap giggle’ because no joker could ever reasonably have anticipated this sort of outcome to such an essentially silly – and light hearted – outing.
      It can, though, as you say, be said to be fully ‘a tragic waste’ for lack of due procedures and of staff trained to deploy them.
      It cannot be a coincidence that on the same night, on the same occasion, two successive members of staff at this hospital, both qualified nurses, one manning a switchboard [why?] and one a ward, clearly had no procedure to follow in the event of telephone queries about a priority security patient.
      That is genuinely culpable.
      It must also be noted that the hospital has made no claim that it had standard procedures in place which were not followed by either of the two members of staff concerned. It has simply gone in hard on the presenters and their station.

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      • Do you really think the jokers thought anything at all about the repercussions when they succeeded in conning what must surely have obviously been the night staff?
        They and their company were apparently careful to clear their achievement with their legal advisers before crowing over it, and they must have known it would gain huge publicity.
        This isn’t down there with hacking Milly Dowler’s mobile phone, but it’s well below any reasonable level of broadcasting standards. Apparently these two have form, as they’ve been caught out crossing the boundary from funny to damaging before.
        I’ve heard a bit of their chatter on the BBC, and there’s clearly an Australian angle to their behaviour in that our royal tribe still have official standing in Oz, and this is a controversial issue there (not surprisingly, to my mind)
        But in making as much hay as possible out of their con, the broadcasters and their company have completely failed to consider the consequences. No-one could have predicted such a tragic outcome, but it takes a bunch of real airheads to have either failed to consider any collateral damage or considered it didn’t matter.

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  3. I don’t know who wrote the above piece on the hoaxed nurse tragedy, but following a reading of all the major UK newspapers on this sad incident, this article is the most intelligent, logical, analytical and perceptive piece of the lot. The media has whipped up a tremenous amount of “blood on their hands” nonsense over the past 24 hours, and it is refreshing to read a balanced, measured and intelligent piece – in direct contrast to much else – and I speak as a recently retired NHS nurse of 27 years.

    Why didn’t the superior nurse who actually gave the report to the imposters commit suicide. Why didn’t the hospital and the palace arrange an elementary password arrangement to prevent imposters? There is something missing here.

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    • There’s more than one thing missing here – yes, the royal flunkies and the hospital management should clearly have agreed how to identify genuine callers.
      But the main thing missing is a collection of broadcasting ‘professionals’ – and, apparently, their legal advisor – with any integrity.
      For them, chasing the cheap sensation was all, and human sensibilities weren’t worth a second thought. There’s a direct analogy with the companies just now in the limelight for screwing this country – and in some cases the native competition – because they’d do anything for a profit (a.k.a. ‘the duty of maximising value for the shareholders’) as long as it was technically legal.

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      • Robert this entire episode stinks…and totally makes me sick to the core…and now every paper and TV station are earning $ off the back of this dark desparately sad episode…I totally agree with your comment.

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  4. It’s a sick joke that you claim to be a news website when you are so out of touch with common sense and obviously drunk to write such utter drivel, again.

    If those two idiots hadn’t made their ill-judged and crass prank, that nurse would be alive today. End of.

    Some practical jokes are funny, but not those that target sick people in hospitals and certainly not those that end like this.

    If you have a scrap of decency you will retract this article immediately.

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    • “If those two idiots hadn’t made their ill-judged and crass prank, that nurse would be alive today. End of.”
      Lots of people have and will continue to play practical jokes, carry out pranks with the huge majority most certainly not resulting in someone’s death, instead some embarrassment, lots of laughing etc. as intended in this case and many others.
      Many well intended things in life backfire with unexpected consequences. Looking for scapegoats influenced by a tabloid fed frenzy serves only to paper over the cracks of others failings. What complete and utter kneejerk nonsense to call for the radio presenter’s heads.

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  5. The management are responsible for this tragedy. The nurses fell for the “prank”, but they have probably been the victims of massive press intrusion into their lives as a result. The management should have known that the nurses were under stress from the publicity and made their welfare their top priority.
    It will be interesting to find out how the management did deal with the situation.

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  6. Anything any one of us says or does at the wrong time can have consequences we’d never anticipate. I have friends who suffer depression and one innocent/careless remark can have very bad consequences just depending on when it was uttered. Just like so many other tragic accidents that happen, it’s always easy to point and say ‘if that had not happened, this would have have happened’.

    If you’ve ever read a Marine Accident Investigation Report, you will know they never apportion blame, but make recommendations that could prevent a similar accident. Very rarely is only one, single factor to blame.

    The tragic accident is no different. Let’s suppose someone else had been on the desk? Or that this private hospital that deals frequently with high profile patients had a formal procedure on dealing with calls – imagine your bank never asked any security information?. Suppose The nurse who divulged the information cottoned on and the prank failed? There will be countless others, i’m sure you get my drift.

    This is a tragic accident, it didn’t need to happen, but I doubt even the most cynical or pessimistic person would have anticipated it. Lessons are to be learned, but let’s stop the witch hunting, too many witches and none solely to blame.

    I hope the family are getting the support and privacy they deserve.

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  7. In spite of the tragedy for the nurse’s family what does it say about the security services of the UK?

    Why did this nurse live in the hospital nurse’s accommodation ? Did she earns too little to afford her own home in London to be with her family who could console her?

    Was the Royal Family paying a private hospital for services which doesn’t pay a London living

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    • Jacintha Saldanha lived, for part of the week, in the nurses’ (sic) accommodation because her home was the house in Bristol she and her nacountant husband had bought as their family home. Evidently she accepted a job at Sister Agnes King Edward Hospital for reasons of professional prestige and pay well above that in the NHS. Mr. McCormick’s assumptions are without foundation, and his slurs on the Royal Family equally baseless and prejudiced.

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  8. The nurse was not British so we don’t know how good her English was, she might not recognise a bad impersonation as quickly as a native English speaker. She could just have been naive and it never occurred to her that someone would do such a stupid thing.

    The two DJs seemed surprised they got past the first person to answer. They could have put the phone down at that point and not gone any further.

    It seems unbelievable that the radio station would think it acceptable to broadcast the whole recording. The fact that it involved Royals is irrelevant, it was an obvious breach of patient confidentiality.

    The station then promoted their achievement for several days.

    The handled the news of the death very badly and late in the day were still promoting themselves using the recording according to reports. Eventually late in the day someone senior issued a not very convincing apology but continues to claim they have done nothing wrong. He seems more concerned about his two DJs who appear to gone into hiding and have not apologised themselves.

    There seem to be varying opinions about whether Australian broadcasting regulations have been breached, the station has already had two previous warnings.

    Obviously no one expected it to result in a death but they must have known that they could be putting other people’s jobs at risk.

    Perhaps the Australians will end up cleaning out some of the garbage they seem to have on the radio there.

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  9. “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 …..
    …. And no one else – no one else – is raising any questions whatsoever on the hospitals own, and central, responsibilities.”

    Isn’t that precisely what you are doing?

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