Would a little more conversation have kept Ashya King’s parents out of jail?

Are doctors and other hospital staff good communicators, when it comes to talking to patients and families? Some of them are, but as the “My name is campaign” seems to have illustrated lot of medical staff aren’t.

“I was in hospital recently” said a colleague of mine, when I asked her about the campaign. “Someone came in the middle of the night to carry out an ECG on me. They didn’t say a single word from start to finish”

I ask the question because of the reported comments of Dr Michael Marsh, medical director at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust. Speaking about the parents of Ashya King he said he regretted that their communication and relationship with the King family had “broken down”. I don’t know who was to blame for that. It’s impossible to know from press reports exactly what was and wasn’t said to the Kings about their son’s medical treatment or what if anything the King’s said before taking Ashya out of the hospital.

The Kings state they want their son to receive Proton beam therapy. The hospital has responded that such treatment isn’t appropriate in all cases and this is one of them. To what extent that was discussed by the hospital with the Kings I don’t know.

When my daughters were born, two months premature, a doctor told me “Their lungs were diseased.” When I suggested they were merely underdeveloped, he said “No they are diseased”. Thankfully they were not and I now have two lovely 18 year old children. It’s probably unfair to talk about events that happened to me 18 years ago but, in light of the above I wonder. The words have stayed with me to this day.

The other classic I heard recently was of a doctor saying to a patient “There is nothing more I can do for you.” In fairness another doctor responded by saying “That’s wrong, there is always something we can do.” The value of care as against cure Is a debate currently rumbling on. In any discussion I’ve heard about the Liverpool Care Pathway its always comes down to how well its application was discussed with the patient and their family. When there was an open and honest conversation with patient and family, its use was rarely an issue.

Last week the Daily Mail reported the elderly were being asked whether they wanted to be resuscitated 5 minutes after a health worker came through the door. While I always take anything the Mail say with a large bucket of salt it sadly rings true.

I hate to think how much it has cost for Ashya to have been made a ward of court, for an international arrest warrant to have been issued and to fly various members of Hants constabulary out to Spain. That’s without taking into account that at the time when Ashya needs his parents most they are currently sitting in a Spanish jail. So would a little more conversation between the hospital and the Kings have avoided all of this?

Please don’t think I’m out to bash doctors and nurses. They do amazing things against incredible odds. But its not just what you do, its also how you do it and what you say that matters.