On Nurses and Hoax Calls

The ongoing fallout from the prank call a couple of Australian DJ’s made to the King Edward VII hospital at 5:30am on Tuesday morning where they were given confidential medical details of the condition of the Duchess of Cambridge, leading to the apparent suicide of one of the nurses involved continues. The latest stage is that, as is normal practice when a death is involved is that the Metropolitan Police have notified the New South Wales police that they may wish to speak to the two DJ’s directly.

The vast majority of reaction online has been strongly negative towards the DJ’s, such that the two have effectively gone into hiding. There is also a fairly vociferous minority, defending the DJ’s and saying that this result was entirely unforeseen. Some like the British DJ Steve Penk, another DJ famous for his prank calls are struggling to understand why the hospital continues to blame the DJ’s, and that the hospital are lying about not disciplining her. Indeed I’ve even come across people in online discussions suggesting that Nurse Jacintha Saldanha must have been mentally ill to react as she did.

From my point of view I certainly agree that the Australian DJ’s couldn’t have foreseen what would happen. However I also think they were blinded by the excitement of what they had managed to do, and really weren’t considering the feelings of anybody else. Right up until news of the suicide broke, and despite their “sincere” apologies to the hospital and the Duchess they were continuing to heavily promote the call.

The really big difference between one of Steve Penk’s prank calls and this is also significant. In the UK a radio station needs written permission from the people on the call before it is even broadcast – so in this case the radio station would have to have got written permission from Nurse Jacintha Saldanha and also from the unnamed nurse who gave out the Duchess’ medical details, this in turn would have required permission from the palace and the hospital, neither of which would have been given, so the call would never have been aired.

As to whether the hospital was putting undue pressure on the nurse, comments from friends and family of the nurse suggest not. Was she mentally ill? Again I don’t think so. It is worth remembering that firstly the nurse isn’t British – she was from India and is one of the many many nurses from abroad who come and work in our healthcare system. Reading some of the background she started working in an NHS hospital in Bristol, and four years ago got a job working for the exclusive King Edward VII hospital in London. Comments in the papers suggest she was immensely proud to have been given a job at such a prestigious hospital, and comments from the hospital after her death suggest she was an excellent and caring nurse. She was proud to be one of the nurses that looked after senior members of the Royal Family when they were sick. Now consider this, someone who is trained like every nurse to keep the confidentiality of patient information, immensely proud to be working for the Royal Family and is then tricked, allowing confidential medical details of the condition of the future Queen to be broadcast, more than that the people who did it repeatedly rebroadcast the trick proclaiming how easy it was to talk their way past you, and the poor woman was left in a mess. Not really any concern from Australia where the radio show was getting international publicity…

Whilst I feel a bit of sympathy for the DJ’s, it’s more that they have in a very brutal way, learnt that when you do these kinds of shows in the name of entertainment you’re dealing with real people and real lives, and they don’t always react well to it. There are very good reasons why in this country the regulations require written permission from the people featured before they are broadcast because it forces the radio stations to consider the victims of stunts like this before they are broadcast. In this case the radio station didn’t consider the two nurses at all as the international publicity flooded in, and now we have a dead nurse and family in mourning, two DJ’s who I suspect will have little career left after this, and indeed a radio station that may disappear as the advertisers are now deserting it in droves.

All of this for a cheap prank getting some medical details about the Duchess of Cambridge. Was it really worth it?

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