Staff at the hospital where brain cancer patient Ashya King was treated before he was taken abroad by his parents have spoken about the “outpouring of hatred” they received but insisted they would act in the same way if it happened again.
Medics at Southampton General Hospital told a BBC documentary how the torrent of abuse effectively shut down their switchboard after it “became a story of a hospital who was chasing down a family”.
One doctor said he had received hate mail from someone who told him they wished his own children would get cancer and die.
The hospital came under the glare of the world’s media last August after Ashya’s parents took him abroad for treatment against the advice of the NHS specialists who had been caring for him at Southampton.
A hunt was launched after Brett and Naghmeh King took the boy from the hospital without consent, leading to fears he could die without the specialist care he had been receiving in hospital.
At the time, Ashya could not swallow and had to be fed through his nose, but the couple announced last month that he had made a “miracle’’ recovery after receiving proton-beam therapy in the Czech capital, Prague.
Matron Kate Pye told the programme she would call the police again if put in the same situation. “They put him at huge risk,” she said of Ashya’s parents.
“If something had happened to that little boy in that car, then we would have been accountable for that.”
Paediatric intensive care consultant Dr Peter Wilson said the NHS trust’s decision to pay for the proton therapy after Ashya left the UK had left him and his colleagues in a difficult position, because it was not the course of treatment recommended.
“It does put clinicians in an impossible position because we now have to try to explain to families why one child … is getting a form of treatment, why they can’t and they’ve got the same tumour.
“That’s deeply unfair when the NHS is supposed to be about equal healthcare for all.”
He went on: “As soon as the story broke, and it became a story of a hospital who was chasing down a family, we were inundated. At one stage, especially on the Monday, our switchboard was basically shut because of the number of phone calls we were receiving; the number of messages that were left … vitriolic messages for everybody.
“The overwhelming sentiment was one of just an absolute outpouring of hatred. One of the letters said they wished my children got cancer and died.”
The Kings were arrested in Spain after fleeing the UK and spent several nights in prison there, away from their son, before they were released .
A judge subsequently approved the move to take Ashya to Prague for proton-beam therapy, which was claimed to be more effective than conventional radiotherapy.