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PICU documentary aims to show ethical discussions among doctors and nurses

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A new documentary filmed on the paediatric intensive care unit at a children’s hospital is hoping to show the public the complex, but also caring, discussions that occur when clinicians are treating children with life-limiting conditions, according to a nurse involved in the programme.

The Channel 4 two-part series My Baby’s Life: Who Decides? features six patients, their families and the staff who care for them at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

“I hope the programme shows that from a nurse and doctor perspective that we do care”

Nicki Morgan

It also looks at the organisation’s clinical ethics committee, which has a nurse, doctors, lawyer, vicar and philosopher sitting on it, and the conversations that take place when parents and clinicians cannot reach agreement about whether to withdraw a child’s life support.

The programme follows last year’s high-profile case of Charlie Gard, a baby with a genetic order who was cared for at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

The parents of Charlie disagreed with the clinical decision to end life support and instead wanted to pursue treatment in the US. GOSH took the case to the High Court, which upheld the NHS trust’s decision. The parents appealed the court ruling, but ultimately lost the case and Charlie later died in a hospice.

However, the high-profile London hospital reported that the case had led to its doctors and nurses receiving abuse from the public, including death threats.

It is hoped the new documentary filmed at Southampton Children’s Hospital will improve the public’s understanding of how doctors and nurses care for children on the PICU, according to staff nurse Nicki Morgan, who was interviewed for the series.

“With the Charlie Gard case, the doctors and nurses couldn’t say anything due to being bound by confidentiality requirements,” she told Nursing Times.

“I think the documentary shows staff do as much as they can, but ultimately there is only so much treatment you can provide before you are prolonging suffering for the child and parents,” she said.

“We often fail to talk openly about the ethics of medical care in society but it is an integral and routine part of life in acute hospitals”

Peter Wilson

“I hope the programme shows that from a nurse and doctor perspective that we do care – and that we don’t go home and forget all about it. We try really hard with every child that comes into intensive care to make them better,” said Ms Morgan.

Dr Peter Wilson, consultant in paediatric intensive care at Southampton Children’s Hospital, described the programme as a “landmark moment in engaging the public with the discussions that take place between clinicians, patients and their families on a daily basis”.

“We often fail to talk openly about the ethics of medical care in society, but it is an integral and routine part of life in acute hospitals and this documentary provides real insight into the active role families play in the care that is delivered every day,” he said.

“It is also an opportunity to reflect on the situations surrounding recent high profile cases and how the details of these decisions can be distorted during public debate as the circumstances are often much more complex than they seem to those not directly involved,” he added.

Nick Mirsky, head of documentaries at Channel 4, said: “This series is among the most important we will broadcast this year.”

He said it was a privilege to be able to “reflect the thought and compassion” of the team at the hospital.

The first part of the series, filmed by Love Productions, was broadcast on 15 March. The second part will air on Channel 4 on 22 March at 9pm.

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