Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Blame Lies Elsewhere

The news is dominated with the sad and tragic death of Jacintha Saldanha - a nurse at the King Edward VII hospital - who took her own life apparently as a consequence of a prank call from an Australian radio station.

It's easy in these circumstances for some to lose a sense of perspective and as a consequence the Australian station in question is taking a great deal of flak, liberally sprinkled it has to be said with a dash of good old 'Aussie bashing'.

Yes, the call in question was crass, juvenile and puerile but given the world wide publicity of the Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy, and admission to hospital, it was completely inevitable that bogus calls were going to be made to the hospital - to elicit information more than anything else.

But like a magician who uses diversion techniques as part of his act, so it's proving with the hospital in question. Because ultimately it comes down to a failing on their part.

As I've noted here before, Mrs TBF used to work for the Queen, albeit indirectly via the Queen's horse race trainer. One of the first things that was drummed into her was answering the phone and dealing with possible bogus and fake press calls.
  • The Queen never phoned directly. A member of staff (name known) always phoned and one of two things occurred; either a request to be transferred to the boss (and only him) who would then be connected through or, far more frequently, a request would be made to be called back on an approved number at a certain time.

  • In the event of a member of the Queen's staff requesting information, it was done by terminating the call and ringing back on an approved number to give out the information.
Similar techniques were used with mail - by putting a code in the bottom right corner of the envelope ensured that the mail would be read by Her Majesty personally. Such training prevented Mrs TBF from getting caught out when controversy hit the racing yard in question and they were inundated with press attention.

So it begs the question why staff of the King Edward VII's hospital were not briefed in the same way, not only given the high profile nature of the Duchess of Cambridge's condition, but that historically it has been used by copious members of the Royal family including; the Queen, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and Charles, Prince of Wales.

Yet it appears that training or information was not given as a matter of course or if so it was clearly inadequate. Either way it is a failure of the hospital's management. However, like the tricks of the magician, we are persuaded to look the other way:
Lord Glenarthur, chairman of King Edward VII’s Hospital, has now written to Australian radio station condemning the call, in which two presenters pretended to be the Queen and the Prince of Wales.
In the letter to Max Moore-Wilton, chairman of Southern Cross Austereo - the parent company of 2DayFM, Lord Glenarthur said: "I am writing to protest in the strongest possible terms about the hoax call made from your radio station, 2DayFM, to this hospital last Tuesday.
"King Edward VII’s Hospital cares for sick people, and it was extremely foolish of your presenters even to consider trying to lie their way through to one of our patients, let alone actually make the call."
He added that the decision to transmit the pre-recorded call was "truly appalling".
In the sad event of a preventable death I hear the noise of arse-covering.


  1. Somehow the word "prank" has taken over the headlines because it's short, but I think that understates it - it was deception involving impersonation, deliberately done to show someone up as a fool. Nasty; not jokey.
    Having said that, I came to the same conclusion as you. For some years I worked in an engineering company which occasionally had VIPs and royal family involvement. A reminder would go out, particularly to switchboard staff, saying that no one should say anything, even to admitting that those people were on site, or wherever, as "the press" would try to get a compromising story - even if that meant twisting a few words.

  2. @Mike Spilligan Absolutely, I must find a dictionary where the definition of humour is publicly humiliating nurses.

    But it was clear from the recording there wasn't any kind of procedure in place - the hospital have questions to answer but no-one seems to be asking them.

  3. That is a good point - I too would like to know what the hospital management said to Mrs Saldanha. I suspect that what they said may have had a considerable bearing on her taking her own life.

  4. An English nurse would have recognised immediately that the call was a silly impersonation. One couldn't expect Mrs Saldanha to differentiate between a genuine call and a hoax unless she had lived in England for many years. For this reason I would hope that the hospital didn't attach any blame to her.

  5. @Budgie, thanks...questions need to be asked of hospital management, maybe they will during the inquest.

    @kenomeat Hopefully not, I don't blame nurse - as you say she's foreign so UK accents won't be her forte and it was 5:30 in the morning. A stint of nights makes you lose a sense of perspective and reasoning.

    But how ever good the accent was or wasn't, should not be relevant. The Queen never phones in cases like this directly, so with good training the nurse would have known it was a dubious call. The blame lies with the hospital.