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  1. ITV Report

Hospital staff targeted by 'vitriol' and death threats over Ashya King case

Medical staff who worked at the hospital where five-year-old brain tumour patient Ashya King was treated in the UK have revealed they were targeted by death threats over the case - but vowed they would do the same if it happened again.

An international manhunt was launched after Ashya King's parents took him out of hospital against medical advice Credit: Family Handout

Doctors and nurses at Southampton General Hospital revealed they were subjected to an "outpouring of hatred" after Ashya's parents took him abroad for treatment against NHS advice, without informing anyone of their intentions.

Health workers informed police, and an international manhunt was launched for Brett and Naghmeh King as fears grew for the boy's welfare without specialist treatment.

At the time, Ashya could not swallow and had to be fed through his nose, and nurses said there was a risk that the feed going into his stomach could go into his lungs.

The pair were arrested in Spain and spent several nights in prison before being released, and were subsequently given permission to take him to Prague for proton beam therapy, which the NHS later agreed to pay for.

Staff at Southampton General Hospital say they were 'inundated' with 'vitriolic' calls Credit: PA

In an interview for a BBC documentary on the case, one doctor in Southampton revealed he had received hate mail from someone telling him they wished his own children would get cancer and die.

Matron Kate Pye said she would call the police again if put in the same situation.

They [his parents] put him at huge risk. And if you asked me again, 'Would I phone the police?' the answer would be yes every time. Because if something had happened to that little boy in that car, then we would have been accountable for that.

– Kate Pye, matron at Southampton General Hospital
Ashya's parents say he has now made a 'miracle' recovery Credit: Family Handout

Paediatric intensive care consultant Dr Peter Wilson said the number of "vitriolic" calls to the hospital had all but shut down the switchboard at one point.

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.

– Dr Peter Wilson, paediatric intensive care consultant

He added that he believed the NHS Trust's decision to pay for the proton therapy treatment - which Ashya's parents insisted would work better than the NHS-recommended chemotherapy - left him and his colleagues in a tough position.

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.

– Dr Peter Wilson, paediatric intensive care consultant
Ashya's parents were arrested in Spain Credit: PA

Proton therapy is more highly targeted than chemotherapy, meaning it can avoid healthy tissue and organs surrounding the tumour.

Ashya's parents announced last month that he had made a "miracle" recovery after receiving the therapy.

But Dr Wilson told the BBCthat their decision to turn down a subsequent course of chemotherapy, which was recommended, could put his life at further risk.

We are unsure as to exactly what treatment he is receiving but what we do know is... every month that goes by that he's not getting chemotherapy, his outcome worsens.

There are experts in the country that have already quoted figures of halving survival - so survival going from 80% to 40% or 50%, which is quite dramatic.

– Dr Peter Wilson, paediatric intensive care consultant

The King family declined to be interviewed for the programme, which will air on BBC One in the south at 7.30pm.