The Kings’ story is by now well-known: a little boy with a brain tumour, whose parents wanted to seek alternative treatment, but who were bullied into not doing so by medical professionals in the hospital. Without breaking the law, the family decided to leave the country to get the treatment they wanted for their son. Treatment they had researched and knew was available and viable. The parents were then arrested under suspicion of child neglect and detained in Spain where they had travelled, leaving their five-year old son in a hospital on his own for three days.
Luckily for the Kings, the debacle caused a furore around the world and a petition was signed by over 200,000 people to have Ashya’s parents removed from prison, and restored to his bedside. But how did we get to a point where knee-jerk reactions carry such far-reaching consequences? Consequences which still hang over the Kings’ heads as they must now deal with a languishing Wardship Order, which continues to severely restrict their duties and responsibilities as parents.
A few months ago, I went to my then GP, to ask if I could have a test for something. I didn’t know whether I had this ailment, but some of my family members did, and I suspected my ill-health was, for want of a better word, related. My GP was outraged that I had dared to ask for this test. He spent the remaining allocated ten minutes of my session bullying me and trying to belittle me. He gave me his diagnosis, without even checking me or suggesting other tests. I left the surgery feeling embarrassed, upset and certain that the diagnosis was wrong. So what had I done to deserve such treatment, during a time when I was feeling really quite poor?
Medical professionals have for a long time wielded total power over their patients. We came to them for advice, and their word was law. With the advent of the internet, more networks online which allow us to discuss things with others and an increased awareness that professionals’ opinions can and do vary on any singular topic, the public have become braver, and better informed than ever.
Communication then, is a vital part of any professional’s arsenal. In a world where clients and patients may well come to the table with preconceived notions, which may not necessarily be right, it is up to professionals to move with the times and learn to engage in discussion, rather than shut families down when they are trying to explore the best possible options for care. Especially when vulnerable children are involved.
But is there more to this scenario than just professional arrogance gone wild? Services like hospitals and social work authorities are struggling to find the time to really engage with families and get to know them. Even an extra ten minutes sometimes is all it takes – but very few families have the opportunity today to sit down with a professional and really talk. And if medical and social care relies on communication to get the job done, then what are we really doing if we can’t even lay the foundations of proper professional practice any more?
I noticed in one interview I gave this week on the King’s case that I mentioned the parents were looking to sue the hospital and the police for the way they had been treated. This interview oddly seems to be missing today, but whilst it may be a controversial point, it is one worth mentioning. Very rarely do people sue if they feel they have been treated with civility and respect. In this case, the Kings appeared to have suffered not just with poor medical advice, but with the kind of arrogance that mocks the ‘ill-informed’ lesser party and most worryingly, endangers lives.
And so, it is all about communication. The Kings’ ordeal will soon be over, but the memory of not being there for their son at a time he needed them most will haunt them all forever. Indeed, the Kings claim now that this time apart so badly affected their son, that he began to deteriorate without them. And for my part, I had to find out what my own ailment was, on my own. And in the end, my GP had misdiagnosed me and I had to find out by myself, what was wrong and how to treat it. Which I did, thanks to my family, and the internet.
The moral of this story must surely be, that whilst professionals may still be an important resource for us all, they must remember that they can only survive if they engage with their patients in a meaningful way and remember that how they communicate is the most important aspect of their work. After all, it is this kind of basic connection that saves lives.