For the past week each day has carried with it a fresh take on the continuing saga of the Duchess of Cambridge, her stay at a hospital for severe morning sickness, the prank phone call made by a pair of Australian DJs and the apparent suicide of one of the nurses who fell victim to the hoax. This is a story which keeps giving, providing opportunities to feed the public’s insatiable desire for tragedy, moralising, scandal and anything involving the Royal Family.
Amongst the various stories and opinions circulating around this, I think there are 3 serious points which are upsetting to me.
1) There was a substantial violation of data protection. I am not belittling the tragedy of the situation, far from it, nor am I seeking to speak ill of the deceased, but none the less there was a breach of data protection. This ‘prank call’ could quite easily have been made in a different context. I know lots of people who work in security and privacy, and care deeply that institutions behave responsibly with our data. While I’m not saying for a moment that any of them would have done the same thing, it’s not inconceivable that someone might have wanted to know if there was a serious risk of DPA violations. Depending on how and why this was done the outcome may or may not have been the same.
Data protection and security should be treated more seriously than it is. Staff who work with information about other individuals, which is probably almost everyone, should have better training about what they can and can’t say. And this training needs to be intrinsicaly linked to Customer Service training. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been ‘taught’ one way of dealing with telephone enquiries by someone doing customer service training, and quite a different way by someone doing training in compliance, control, security and data protection.
2) The reason this story stayed on the front cover for 3 days, possibly contributing to the decline of the nurses mental health, was because it was to do with the Royals. I’m not a monarchist, but I’m not a fervent anti-monarchist either. I get pissed off when the Royals do stupid stuff, because they are doing stupid stuff, and I dislike what they represent, but I don’t hate them personally. I find the tone of some of the anti-Royal rhetoric very distasteful. You can’t pick which family you get born into.
I am also rather disgusted by the frenzy with which they are hounded by the media. If this privacy invasion had happened to a ‘nobody’ then no one would have cared anything like as much. As came up repeatedly during the Leveson Inquiry there seems to be an unwritten rule that Royals, Celebrities and other individuals of note are not entitled to a private life. I despise some of the ‘journalism’ done in the name of the ‘public interest’ because it involves the Royal Family.
3) Mental Illness still carries a huge stigma, and is under-diagnosed and misunderstood. An inquest will take place into the death of the nurse involved, and I wouldn’t want to second guess the outcome, but I find it hard to believe that this poor woman wasn’t already very emotionally vulnerable. It is cruelly unfortunate that she happened to be the one who picked up the phone. Suicide is always a tragedy, and the fact that people can go through life unable to ask for the help they need, or denied that help when they do ask, is horrendous. Mental Health issues are still frequently seen as a fringe problem compared to physical, tangible medical conditions.
The one positive I take from this coverage is that it is raising a little more awareness. As the chief executive of Samaritans, Catherine Johnstone, says on the BBC Analysis page: “Suicide is complex.” Perhaps with a little more understanding of the fragility of the human mind, people in pain can start to feel that they can be heard without judgement.