BBC soap EastEnders slammed over Down's Syndrome baby birth

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Publisher:  Ian Morgan
Published: 13/09/2006 - 08:58:01 AM
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The BBC has defended an episode of EastEnders in which a mother gave birth to a Down's Syndrome baby against accusations that it was riddled with inaccuracies.

The episode, screened last week, involved the character Honey giving birth to baby Janet.

Sue Jacob, a teacher at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said the programme contained factual inaccuracies and presented a poor picture of midwifery practice.

Honey was refused an epidural while in pain and told about her baby's condition while alone, without her partner Billy or another person to support her, she said.

Furthermore, the woman caring for Honey was repeatedly called "nurse Cheryl" when in fact a midwife would have cared for her.

"This is a big issue and we do whole classes on breaking bad news," she added.

"Women are vulnerable after giving birth and they need support systems in place.

"The person caring for her is repeatedly referred to as a nurse in the episode but there is no way that a nurse would be in charge after birth.

"The midwife would also have been open and honest and said 'We need to get the baby checked out and we will get your partner'."

Ms Jacob said Honey was left alone for a long time to worry about the baby, which appeared rigid when it actually would have been floppy.

"The woman next to Honey kept asking if she was all right and there was an air of suspicion," she added. "But nobody actually opened up the blanket and checked the baby."

Ms Jacob said Honey wrote a note and left the baby alone but a midwife would have been repeatedly in and out of the room.

A spokeswoman for the BBC said: "EastEnders has undertaken a great deal of research to script the storyline of Billy and Honey giving birth to their baby daughter.

"EastEnders takes enormous care with its research and takes advice from experts in the given field.

"In addition, for this particular storyline EastEnders talked to numerous families with children who have Down's Syndrome. Some of their experiences were depicted in these early episodes.

"Also closely involved was a senior midwife from a large UK general hospital who saw all scripts.

"In relation to some particular points raised, Honey was not denied an epidural - she made the choice to put herself out of reach of communicating effectively with the midwife by locking herself in the bathroom.

"When the news was broken to Honey and Billy that their baby had Down's Syndrome, EastEnders has in fact drawn directly from one particular true-life story - and while this may indeed not be best practice it is worth saying that good drama does not necessarily come from best practice."

She said the BBC had carried out an extensive search to cast a Down's Syndrome baby in the first episodes but was unable to do so.

"As a result, shots of the newborn were limited and therefore not as authentic.

"In the coming weeks Honey and Billy's child will be played by a baby with Down's Syndrome.

"It is worth noting that EastEnders has received incredibly positive feedback from the Down's Syndrome Association following the first few episodes, whom we are continuing to work with very closely."

Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, said: "The way in which Billy and Honey have learnt of their baby's disability, and their subsequent support from their health professionals, is not a best-practice model.

"However, neither is it an unrealistic situation. BBC researchers and scriptwriters have based the scenes on conversations with families who have children with Down's Syndrome, and the scenes have struck a chord with thousands of our parent members across the country."

She said research showed that nearly 40% of parents whose babies were diagnosed after birth were given no written or practical information about the condition, and 11% were told, as Honey was, by a midwife rather than a paediatrician.

"Some health professionals hold outdated or prejudiced views about people with Down's Syndrome that prevent them from giving parents a balanced picture of what the future will hold for them."

Copyright Press Association 2006

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