Hazel McHaffie

patient death

Harming children: Truth v fiction

Well, I must confess I had a real sense of deja vu this week.

Six months ago, my eleventh novel, Killing me Gently, was published. It centres on a young mum who struggles to care for her little girl and comes under suspicion of deliberately harming her. Health workers, social workers, the Child Protection team, the police, all get involved. And in spite of all the vigilance, all the protestations of innocence, the baby is still being harmed. Should the professionals take her away from her parents for her own safety? Or should they give her the benefit of the doubt? Either way there are huge risks.

Now here we are, in real time, in real life, listening to a mother from the west of Scotland who was falsely accused of harming her disabled daughter. She alleges she became suicidal and doesn’t want something as horrific as this to happen to another family, so she’s pursuing her grievances through the courts to highlight the issues.

I have no inside knowledge of this case, but the facts as I understand them from the media and an interview with the mum are:
PARENTS: Kirsteen and Craig Cooper.
CHILDREN: Three daughters.
YOUNGEST: Baillie, has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and is tube-fed.
HISTORY: Baillie was admitted to the Children’s Hospital in Glasgow in December 2016.
The child suffered repeated infections which raised concerns for her parents, and they registered a complaint related to poor hygiene in the hospital.
A member of staff suspected Kirsteen was deliberately inducing illness in her daughter.
PROFESSIONAL SUSPICIONS: The mother was causing infections; cutting feeding tube; stealing blood to induce anaemia. Suspected diagnosis? Fictitious or Induced Illness.
CHARGES: A charge of attempted murder was brought in July 2017. Kirsteen was put in a cell overnight.
CONSEQUENCES: Baillie had to go and live with her aunt and grandmother; Kirsteen was allowed only very limited access to the child, and that only under supervision.
OUTCOME: Charges were suddenly dropped after a few months.
CURRENTLY: Kirsteen is preparing a legal case against NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital of which the Children’s Hospital is a part, is currently the focus of a public inquiry over safety fears and patient deaths from infection. It’s under special measures.

It felt decidedly spooky listening to and reading details of a situation with significant echoes of the plot which preoccupied me for a couple of years. I have huge sympathy fpr any parent whose baby is taken away from them, but … yep, there’s sure to be a but! … I’m forcibly reminded that most of this account comes from one source, viz. the mum. The whole scenario can look very different according to where you stand, but professional and legal etiquette denies the healthcare professionals a voice. My heart goes out to all those in authority who are required to safeguard the interests of the children in their care. Damned if they act, damned if they don’t. I made myself walk in the shoes of the nurses, the doctors, the protection people, as well as the parents and grandparents when I wrote Killing me Gently. It was not comfortable walking in any of their footsteps.

From a purely selfish angle, I’m profoundly glad my book came out before this case hit the headlines! At least I can’t be accused of stealing their story.

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