A stunt turns to tragedy


On Thursday last week, Brett Holmes of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association wrote to Jeremy Simpson, General Manager of 2Day FM, about their hoax call to the London hospital treating Kate Middleton for severe ‘morning sickness’.

Brett pointed out that the station’s own Code of Practice requires that “an identifiable person should not be broadcast without their permission”, but also that within the Australian context, such a stunt could have serious disciplinary consequences for any nurse or midwife unlucky enough to be caught up in it.

                       A family picture of Jacintha Saldanha [from The Guardian]

“In our role as industrial  and professional  representatives … we deal with these processes every day and I can assure you that they are stressful and deeply traumatic  experiences  for many nurses and midwives,  regardless of the level of wrongdoing or the nature of the precipitating incident.

“In the future I urge you to consider the personal toll such a prank could exact from a professional  caregiver.”

Retrospectively, after the apparent suicide of one of the nurses caught up in the London prank, this letter has a tragic prescience.

As Wendy Harmer writes in the Sydney Morning Herald today, “no one wants to shut down humour and satire” but also “we must all have confidence this never happens again”.

Taking the practical steps that Harmer suggests to make sure it cannot happen again is a straightforward and necessary response.

Responding on a human level is both simple (a deep sense of sadness and sympathy for Jacintha Saldanha’s family and colleagues) and yet more complex. As Catherine Johnstone, CEO of the Samaritans organisation in Britain, said, “Although a catalyst may appear to be obvious, suicide is never the result of a single factor or event and is likely to have several inter-related causes.”

Australian mental health nurse Paul McNamara has written a very thoughtful response to this sad event, in which he makes three points:

One. Jacintha’s death is a poignant reminder that in times of distress there are always people we can reach out to.

Two. In this sad time while we include Jacintha’s family, friends and workmates in our compassionate thoughts, let’s also share and encourage compassion for the radio DJs and their family, friends and workmates.

Three. Only one Australian state (Victoria) has access to the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program – an independent support service specifically for nurses and midwives experiencing a mental health issue or substance use issue. Shouldn’t this scheme be opened up to all Australian nurses and midwives? Let’s nurture those who nurture.

Another mental health nurse, this time in Britain, makes another important point: “As a nurse, I would say that it is never acceptable to obtain somebody else’s medical details through deception.”

Nurses and midwives especially will identify with the staff at the London hospital who were towards the end of a night shift when the hoax callers rang. As the letter from Brett Holmes of the NSWNMA concludes, “I hope I will be able to reassure my members  that your station has undertaken to never again attempt to jeopardise  their professional  standing by perpetrating  such a deception against another hardworking nurse or midwife”.


  1. Last night, I received a call from a “husband” asking about his wife and her condition. I immediately felt overly uncomfortable just being asked about a patient of mine since the recent incident. Of course I gave no information, but put the call to her, but the point is… the impact of what happenned is too close to home for many of us.

    Just tragic… I feel for all involved, but since the radio station is involved in a breech of its own code of practice that “an identifiable person should not be broadcast without their permission”, then I believe the radio station should face some legal eagles and be accountable, even if it is to financially cover the two children left motherless.

  2. After hearing on Australia media, that British police wanted to received information from Sydney police…. I had no hesitation in calling Crime Stoppers and gave the operator my views.

    Having been the victim of a number of high pressure ‘fact-finding’interviews by Nursing Admin, I relayed my impression of what happened.

    I shouldn’t have to spell it out … most of you should know what I mean …

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