Andrea Spyropoulos: Alfie Evans’ supporters should not have been allowed to abuse hospital staff
It was unacceptable for protesters to intimidate Alder Hey staff and visitors, says RCN past president
It was unacceptable for protesters to intimidate Alder Hey staff and visitors
There is no greater example of the tough world clinical staff encounter than the heart-breaking cases involving critically ill children for whom continued treatment is not a possibility. Under normal circumstances the hospitals involved would work with the parents. In most cases they negotiate a way forward.
When that does not happen, the courts may have to intervene. They have the difficult task of trying to resolve differences of opinion between parents and doctors and navigate complex issues. The very sad case of Alfie Evans drew national and international support for his parents, who had been in conflict with Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool about what was in their son’s best interests. There was enormous public sympathy for their plight.
These hard cases attract a lot of media interest and inevitably the ethical and moral issues surface as sound bites that do not give the full picture.
We’ve been here before
This was not the first case of its kind. It is less than a year since Great Ormond Street found itself in the eye of the storm over the case of infant Charlie Gard.
The Alder Hey case saw the development of a support group known as Alfie’s Army – an unfortunate name as the word ‘army’ sends a message of conflict, when at heart this was about the care of a little boy.
No one should criticise Alfie’s family, they were loving parents trying to stand up for their boy. The behaviour of some of the participants in Alfie’s Army, however, is open to criticism.
‘We should call time on these types of protest. It is not okay to be abusive, threatening or create a public nuisance at a children’s hospital’
There were reports of highly threatening language and abusive behaviour towards hospital staff, who felt under siege. Parents and children using the hospital had to endure months of media presence and campaigners setting up camp with balloons, banners and a bouncy castle. There was even a reported attempt to storm the hospital.
This behaviour was not supported by most Liverpudlians and it left some parents not wanting to come to the hospital at all.
These hard situations are becoming more common and with each new case we see more of the type of behaviour that was evident at Alder Hey. We should call time on these types of protest. It is not okay to be abusive, threatening or create a public nuisance at a children’s hospital.
Where is the respect for other families?
Many people feel that if they criticise this sort of activity they are not being supportive of the parents and therefore they just tolerate it. But where is the respect for the other children at the hospital and their families? No sick child should have to make their way through an ‘army’, and no child in hospital should have to tolerate external noise that is frightening.
We need an agreed policy on what is acceptable in terms of protest. I am not saying people should not be able to protest and demonstrate appropriately but the place for a large, noisy protest is surely not outside an intensive care unit.
This case also raises lots of questions about the use of social media and the effect on nurses and all clinical staff when the media become involved. As the court cases involving Alfie Evans went on, the presence of protesters on the hospital site escalated. Perhaps it is also time to consider what information should be published while court cases are going on.
We have to protect staff, who have enormous attachment to the children they care for and wish only to provide the highest standard of care. Alfie’s Army may have had good intentions, but they crossed a line. It is time to redraw it before the next case arises and we have people injured.
Andrea Spyropoulos is a past president of the RCN and was a clinical strategist at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital during its new building programme