When the news first broke that his parents had taken Ashya out of Southampton hospital, the predictable media storm erupted. Armed with only one side of the story, such emotive terms as “snatched” and “abducted” were tossed around with gay abandon.

The batteries for Ashya’s essential feeding equipment, we were told, were shortly to run out and he would surely starve to death. We were then told that the family were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and with it the suggestion that the family had refused to allow Ashya to be treated – an inference demonstrably false as Ashya had recently undergone major brain surgery.

As public pleas by the police – instigated by Southampton Hospital – for the Kings to get in touch went unheeded, a European wide manhunt was launched. Chris Shead, the assistant chief constable of Hampshire police, took to the airwaves to tell us that a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) had been issued for the arrest of the Kings based on the vague suggestion of “neglect”. The Spanish police have since publicly stated the investigation centres upon equally vague “child cruelty” allegations.

As the days went by, the Kings’ side of the story gradually became known. With their son suffering a stage four aggressive brain tumour and given just four months to live, their only ostensible crime was to love their son and to have the audacity to disagree with doctors on how he should be treated. For this, they have been pursued like dangerous fugitives to Spain where they languished in a prison cell, prevented from seeing or speaking to their possibly terminally ill son.

In desperation, the Kings wish their son to undergo proton beam treatment. This treatment is perceived to be a ‘kinder’ form of radiotherapy as it’s believed to cause less damage to the healthy cells around the tumour, making it particularly suited to children. Unfortunately, this form of treatment is not the best treatment available for every cancer patient and is not currently available in the UK. Whilst the NHS has in the past paid for some patients to receive the treatment abroad, this is only possible with the consent of the patient’s oncologist – something which would not appear to have been forthcoming in Ashya’s case.

Now it may well be the case that proton beam treatment would not be effective in Ashya’s case, and the NHS was right not to pay for the same when the cost of a treatment seems to play an ever more important role in the clinical decision making process.

What is troubling about the situation is when we hear from Ashya’s grandmother that his parents had been threatened with the prospect of a protection order being made, simply for disagreeing with doctors how Ashya should be treated. That when they decided to privately seek their preferred means of treatment abroad – at not insignificant cost – they were pursued by police forces across the continent.

With horrific stories of child abuse in Rotherham, and particularly the collective failures of various public bodies to tackle this, still dominating our newspapers, Hampshire Police have gone to the other absurd extreme. When the Kings should have been permitted – if not helped – to explore every possible avenue of treatment which may be available to Ashya, they are locked up in a Spanish prison cell; their son in a hospital hundreds of miles away prevented from seeing anybody he knows.

Clearly in the first instance a lot hinges on exactly what the police were told by Southampton hospital, but that Hampshire police leapt into action as the enforcement arm of the NHS in the event of a disagreement over medical advice is profoundly unsettling. It should be a matter of public debate as to where the balance of decision making should lie in cases like this – with patient or their guardian(s), or with the doctors.

More worrying is how the police have handled this matter. Public confidence in the police, particularly here in the north east, still bears the scars, rightly or wrongly, of their actions during the miners’ strike, when they were perceived to be the state’s enforcers. The police, as is widely and repeatedly stated, police with and by consent in the UK. Any perception they are merely the establishment’s heavy-handed, ham-fisted hired muscle is profoundly worrying. More so given a European Arrest Warrant was applied for and issued in the absence of any prerequisite ongoing criminal proceedings (a decision the police and CPS have hitherto refused to explain or justify).

I don’t doubt the ramifications of this sad case will be felt for some time to come. What they will transpire to be should be of great concern to all of us.


Photo by cindy47452

Originally published on the Yarm & Kirklevington ward news

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