Opinion: Royal Hoax Call

King Edward VII Hospital

BY NIAMH MARLEY

This week, the headlines were dominated by the news that a hoax call placed by two DJs, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, in Australia, managed to get through a private London hospital’s switchboard by impersonating. The hospital that just so happened to be treating the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge. Believing she was speaking to the Queen and Prince Charles, Kate’s private nurse then divulged confidential information regarding the state of her health. The duty nurse who connected the call, Jacintha Saldanha, was found dead three days later, having allegedly committed suicide.

 I find the idea of monarchy anywhere in the world hard to swallow. Aside from a (let’s face it, considerable) weight difference and superb blow dry, I see no difference between the Duchess and Joe Bloggs. She just happened to marry into blue blood. I believe she is entitled to no special treatment. But what she is entitled to is the highest standard of care possible, including a ferocious protection of her privacy – the same as every other patient in the land. The Duchess is a 30-year-old pregnant woman, suffering from a horribly debilitating illness. She isn’t ‘blooming,’ she’s boking. If I was admitted to hospital, and anybody had the brass neck to phone up and enquire about my condition, claiming to be a member of my family and received confidential details without having their identity verified, I would be white with rage. NHS standards of care emphasise that patient confidentiality is of the utmost importance, and rightly so. The arrogance of these two DJs, who somehow felt they had the right to invade this woman’s privacy in such a manner, is, quite frankly, abhorrent. To add insult to an already grievous injury, the phone call was pre-recorded and checked over by producers and lawyers, who allowed it to be aired. The fact that what was disclosed wasn’t exactly salacious is beyond the point. Nobody deserves to have his or her privacy intruded upon like that. The excuse of ‘we never thought it would get through’ is paltry to say the least.

 Turning though to the tragic death of Mrs Saldanha, this is a different matter. When someone dies amidst such harrowing circumstances, our humanity urges us to seek out the perpetrator. Who is responsible for this and how can we punish them? The distasteful actions of the radio station were out of order, but to see it as a direct cause of Mrs Saldanha’s death seems overreaching. Was it a causative factor? Without a doubt. But was it the sole cause? Unlikely. Undoubtedly, Mrs Saldanha felt embarrassed and ashamed of what happened. She was a well-respected nurse, whose colleagues spoke very highly of her. Whilst letting the DJs off the hook is out of the question, hailing them as murderers is a step too far. In a news interview broadcast on Australian TV, Christian and Greig did seem remorseful for their actions. But they aren’t the only ones to blame. Where are these ‘lawyers’ who okayed the call? Where are the producers? Why aren’t they being slandered all over the papers?

 The bottom line is that two children and a husband will sit down at their table with one chair starkly empty. Mrs Saldanha’s death should be probed and she should be allowed to rest in peace, as quite clearly, she wasn’t at peace whilst she was alive. With regards to the DJs, they should be severely disciplined and those above them also need to be made accountable. But with respect to Mrs Saldanha, dubbing them ‘murderers’ is too far – living with the knowledge that they played even a minor part in the death of this poor lady, is punishment enough.

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