Chris spoke to Adrian Goldberg for File on 4 in early January 2023 in respect of an investigation into the crisis in paediatric pathology. The programme highlighted the lack of specialist paediatric pathologists in the UK, and what this means for families who lose a young child unexpectedly.
The sudden, unexplained death of a child is a terrible ordeal for a family to face. However, Adrian’s programme highlighted the fact that it is made infinitely more difficult where parents have to wait many months for a post-mortem. The lack of pathologists able to carry out post-mortems on children means that it may take 12 months or more for a report to be produced, and this could be significantly longer if other experts have to be involved (for example if bones have to be examined in order to assess the likelihood of the child having suffered injuries prior to death). It may also be that a child’s body has to be transported across the country if there are no suitable pathologists locally which can cause great distress to parents.
The delay may affect the grieving process as parents and other family members might find it difficult to process the death without any explanation as to what happened to the child. It may also cause parents to worry about the health of other children within the family, and particularly whether there is a congenital issue which may affect them also.
The programme also featured families who have been suspected of injuring their children, and the devastating impact that the lack of a pathologist can have in that situation. Local authorities have to be vigilant to ensure that they are protecting children from the risk of harm or abuse. Where a child dies unexpectedly and there is any suggestion that their parents may have been involved, other children in the family may need to be protected whilst the post-mortem is awaited. This could take the form of the family and remaining children moving into the home of another family member and living under their supervision, or could result in the other children being removed from the family and placed in foster care.
Adrian spoke to Chris Mitropoulos about a case he had been involved in where this had happened. The case concerned the death of a 14-month-old child. Shortly afterwards, a radiographer undertook a skeletal survey which suggested that the child had a healing collarbone at the date of their death resulting from a break to the bone some 10-21 days beforehand. This is not the sort of injury that would be expected in a child of that age and was therefore suspicious. The mother and remaining children were forced to live under the supervision of another family member, trying to cope with their loss whilst having allegations of potential abuse hanging over them.
The mother’s explanation was that the child had fallen approximately 2 months before their death and bumped themselves. This was outside the timescale provided for, and it was only months later when a full examination of the bone could be carried out that it was discovered that there was no fracture. Rather, the healing reaction was to a bump which could have happened within the timescale suggested by the mother. The evidence therefore eventually exonerated the mother, but at the cost of many months of anxiety and suspicion.
These types of cases are challenging legally and emotionally. Chris has the expertise and experience to deal with the legal issues raised, and also the compassion to deal with parents facing similar allegations. To listen to the whole programme, click here.