In 2017, my then 5 year old son began wheezing. He was panicky and teary, saying he couldn’t breathe. I rushed him into the car and drove to the nearest hospital where I explained the situation, expecting a rapid response.
“But we don’t have a children’s ward anymore,” I was told by the receptionist as though that had any relevance. I didn’t know why my son was struggling to breathe – he had no history of breathing difficulties – but it sounded like his throat was closing up. This could have been an allergic reaction, in which case every second counts, so I could be forgiven for not giving a flying fuck about the fact the Tories closed down our children’s ward. My son needed treatment.
An angry exchange later and I was told an ambulance would take my son to another hospital eight miles away for treatment. I didn’t know at this point if he’d still be breathing upon arrival. You can imagine how terrifying this was.
Before we departed, a doctor quickly examined my son. She had none of the proper equipment and simply shone her mobile phone torch into his throat, then said she can’t see an obstruction. That was it. We set off in the ambulance.
We arrived at the other hospital at midnight and the children’s ward was packed like you wouldn’t believe. Everyone was sitting squashed together on the floor. I’ve never seen a hospital so crowded – it was horrendous. We were told the only children’s doctor was away on an emergency and there was no one to treat my son. The staff didn’t know when the doctor would be available.
I sat squashed on the cold, hard, and crowded floor for hours, hoping with each passing second my son was still breathing. He was worryingly quiet for a long time, but gradually perked up, and the croakiness in his voice cleared. He told me he could breathe better.
Another half an hour passed. We were exhausted. We were told the doctor could still be hours. Not a single person had been seen. The hospital was becoming further crowded. I decided to take my son home.
My son did not receive treatment in what could have been a life or death situation. I took him to another hospital in the morning for a checkup. Thankfully, everything was fine, and we still don’t know what caused his breathing difficulties.
My son’s life was jeopardised by Tory cuts. Locally and nationally, the government have closed children’s wards and maternity wards, leaving one hospital doing the job of three. It’s horrific and this experience is the kind of thing that drives people to activism. It’s also the kind of thing that kills.
Yet, I learned yesterday that being a political activist means you’re not allowed to raise such concerns, that if you do, you’re simply engaging in a politically-motivated PR stunt. At least, that’s the impression the BBC and their political correspondent gave me when reporting on the case of Omar Salem.
Omar’s seven day old baby almost died due to hospital understaffing – and our prime minister Boris Johnson decided to visit the hospital for a photo opportunity. Omar, still clearly distressed by his experience with his daughter, confronted the prime minister and broke down how Tory cuts are jeopardising lives. He explained about shocking understaffing at the hospital and raised displeasure at the fact Johnson had come for a press opportunity. Johnson, while looking into a camera, said “Well, there are no press here.” A bizarre lie and a grotesque dismissal of Omar’s concerns.
The story here is that government spending cuts are jeopardising lives, yet the prime minister sees hospitals as photo opportunities and lies to a father with a sick baby. Yet that’s not how the BBC framed it. No, they framed it as the father who challenged Boris Johnson is a Labour activist. This was tweeted by both the BBC and Laura Kuenssberg and was reported on the BBC News at Ten. The implication was Omar’s motives were political, rather than born from concern from his daughter, and his concerns about the NHS can simply be dismissed, or at the very least, doubted. That’s certainly the impression I and many others got.
But it gets worse.
Laura Kuenssberg quote-tweeted, “This is him here”, outing Omar to her 1.1 million followers, which inevitably triggered a pile-on. Omar was left to deal with accusations that his daughter might not be sick and he might have made the whole thing up.
I think back to my experience with the NHS when my son couldn’t breathe and I think how horrendous such a pile-on would have been during an emotional time. I suffer from anxiety. This would have triggered a panic attack at the very least. Online bullying can and does tip people over the edge.
Now the BBC assure us there was nothing sinister in Laura Kuenssberg’s motives. I’m certainly glad to hear it. But whether intentional or not, she triggered a pile-on for a father who was going through a difficult period and who had done nothing wrong. She behaved irresponsibly and inappropriately, and at the time of writing, I am unaware of any apology from Kuenssberg or the BBC. Indeed, the BBC’s statement suggested criticisms of Kuenssberg are absurd.
All inappropriate tweets should be removed, an apology should be made, and the BBC should reach out to Omar. Instead, we’re told told our concerns are absurd, and even worse, Labour centrists are jumping on the bandwagon on Twitter, attacking those who’ve criticised Kuenssberg for her behaviour.
And let’s consider Kuenssberg has been met with such fury because she has form. She was previously found guilty of a misleading report on Jeremy Corbyn about his stance on the government’s shoot-to-kill policy – an error which many feel should have cost Kuenssberg her job.
And remember when Corbyn first became Labour leader and Kuenssberg and her colleagues would, in a sneering manner, refer to Corbyn as “the left winger” as though being left wing was something sinister? But they would never refer to any Conservative MP as “the right winger”, even though the Tories were imposing brutal austerity cuts. Indeed, they reserved such language for far-right loons like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. This seemed absolutely intentional – frame the Labour Party and its leader as extremists equivalent to the far right.
There has been a pattern of bias with Kuenssberg and the BBC for a long time – and when we see them treating a father with a sick child with such insensitivity, they are of course going to provoke a reaction. I and many others feel Kuenssberg has gone too far and it’s time for her to leave her job as BBC political editor.
What do you think?