Thursday, 16 April 2009

Anniversaries 20 years on

Here in Northernshire several of us have noticed that the media have been concentrating on an event that 20 years ago resulted in the loss of 96 lives in a matter of minutes at what should have been a sporting event.

While any unnecessary loss of life should be avoided, it got some of the team who were there, or trained, in the cities involved to think how people cope with such events. Here are some of our collective recollections of these events from 20 years ago:

One remembered a former Professor of Forensic Medicine who argued strongly when building a new Coroner’s centre that there was a need for a 100 “bed” fridge in the new morgue. He thought it might be needed in case of a mid air collision.

He was right. It was needed in his lifetime but was wrong as to the circumstances when it would be first used. Any manager that bright?

On the afternoon at the sporting event there were many doctors present some officially as a “jolly” others unofficially in the crowd. Many of these we have subsequently worked with. There would have also been nurses, physios etc all of whom will have their own story. These rarely appear in any official enquiry.

One of ND’s team had a GP trainer who had been there and recalled the event several years later when they attended a suicide whose chosen means of demise recalled what they had seen in the many dead at the stadium.

Another recalled a patient who loved football and used to work on one of the turnstiles and remembers the relief they felt when the Police eased the pressure on the turnstile he and his son were working in when they let the fans into the ground.

The brick walls were moving under the weight of the fans who had arrived late pushing to try to get into the ground before the kick off. Both he had his son were so relieved when the pressure was eased as they feared they would be crushed by the fans and the wall if it gave way as they had no way out.

Only later did they realize that their “relief” had such an impact on others’ lives. That elation of apparent survival of he and his son was later followed by despair, grief and guilt at having survived when others had not. He was a father and went to his grave with this.

There were also Police officers there some of whom were at school with ND team members and some of whom went on to sue their employers for their inability to cope on the day.

Same school, same city, different jobs and different reactions to the same event.

There were those who although off that weekend heard the news but went into work after hearing the disinformation that is the media to help with the 8 operating theatres working (as far as we are aware there were none).

When we arrived the whole of the medical speciality team with whom we were working (consultants X2, senior registrar, registrar, senior house officers X2 and the 2 house officers) were all there waiting and prepared to help. The 2 nursing sisters and several off duty nurses had also come in as well and that was just on one ward in a large teaching hospital.

No one had called them (there was a major incident plan) they had just heard and came in of their own volition.

Over the next few days the wards where we all worked were on national TV daily something that most doctors avoided but unfortunately the show of a blue uniform is always good for the media even though it meant that nursing care suffered as the media is more important than patients.

We remember the feeding frenzy that was the media scrum of piranhas biting at any meaty titbit that might be a newsworthy story.

One of us recalls going on major incident exercises with the military and recalls being told that the biggest problems to be contained are the Press and the relatives as there is a huge demand for information which hampers any attempt at organized relief efforts. Remember no mobile phones then and this grunt training has been right on so many occasions since.

20 years on what is our collective memory of this event? Part of it is for the unnecessary loss of lives due to a football match but mainly for the fact that so many uninvolved directly came in voluntarily and gave over what was ever required of them during the disaster and its sequelae. This is the best part of the human spirit and was heavily diluted by the blame culture which followed and that has been evolving every since humanity realized there is a potential right and wrong.

Oh yes we also remember a nurse manager wandering around with a clipboard and suit in a corridor (yes, they were around 20 years ago too!) saying “Are you are right?” to any one in a nursing uniform or white coat as she avoided drunken fans hassling nurses for information as they tried to work.


Two days later the whole of the A&E team in casualty falling around in laughter when at 22.30 hours the night nurse manager announced that some unknown "counsellor" would be offering their services if any one “needed” them?

“Where was the idle (expletives not printable) and you when we needed help?” is the phrase we remember being shouted back in amongst the laughter at the manager as they beat a hasty retreat.

It was another day at the office in a small Northernshire town remote from Westminster albeit just a bit busier on that day.

The grunts on the ground did their job and coped as best as they could.

Some things never change in the NHS. The problems keep coming and we deal with them. Occasionally it is recognised. Anyone remember Bradford?

Praise be to the Party and their managers whose major incident plan worked “so” well as they always do (if you believe them and don’t see major incident plans in action).

Would that esprit de cours be there today?

Despite all the crap that those who work in healthcare endure we suspect the answer would be a quiet Yes.

And someone with a clipboard will be there too.

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