Anyone working in the health service should fear the implications of the public baying for the blood of social workers and health staff in the wake of the death of Baby P.
It is gravely worrying for NHS staff that so many people are willing to rush to condemnation of public servants without knowing the facts.
It is not in doubt that there were serious failings in both the health and social care services, and that staff who failed should be disciplined appropriately. But the public clamour for retribution verges on the unhinged.
The Sun secured more than 1.3 million signatures for its online petition saying that "ALL the social workers involved in the case of Baby P… should be sacked… I also demand that the doctor and health visitor involved with Baby P… should also lose their jobs".
The paper quoted approvingly from one reader who said the social workers "should be prosecuted along with the people who were abusing Baby P", thereby drawing a moral equivalence between child abusers and staff dedicated to child protection.
Another reader opined: "I and others believe the real problem lies within the social services system." The real problem is not, apparently, the predilection of some adults for abusing children in their care.
Children's secretary Ed Balls has helped perpetuate this distorted view of reality by suggesting a system of child protection can be established to ensure "such a tragedy doesn't happen again". This is a nonsense; no system can prevent all child killings.
Meanwhile public servants charged with child protection are running scared. There has already been a sharp increase in court applications to take children into care, despite overwhelming evidence that in all but a small minority of cases a child's life chances will be better if it is kept with its family. Children in the care system are at high risk of committing crime, becoming involved in prostitution and drug abuse, and ending up homeless or in prison. It is all too likely that this is what the future now holds for some of those in care who would have stayed at home before the media lynch mob got to work.
All parts of the NHS are at risk of overnight infamy following a controversial patient death. The mob could be heading your way tomorrow.
Trusts must be prepared for the media storm that will strike after a tragedy. It can get personal and vicious. You could be attacked for the foreign holiday you were on when a death occurred. A senior manager could be pilloried for the SIX FIGURE SALARY they were pocketing while the patient DIED IN AGONY.
He concluded his team should have prepared in advance for a local story going national. By the time management tried to regain control of the baby death storm, it was too late.
The realities of getting your position across in the media can crash up against sacred rules such as patient confidentiality. There has been at least one case in recent months where next of kin were providing briefings to the papers wildly at variance with the facts. Do you get stuck in with an "off the record briefing" to protect the jobs of your staff and the reputation of your hospital, or will you be screaming "no comment" as the flames lick around your feet?
Decide your strategy before the mob is outside your gates. l
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