A baby has died in Burnley General Hospital at the age of just three days. His mother, Joanna Gaskarth, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 24, and has admitted to struggling with the disease. Her blood sugar management proved to be problematic throughout her pregnancy, with her levels as much as five times higher than they should have been just before her son’s birth, and she often forgot to provide doctors with blood sugar readings. As a result, the baby, named Thomas Gaskarth-Roberts, died from multiple organ failure and brain damage.
Under the circumstances, it would be insensitive to demonise or criticise Miss Gaskarth, who has no doubt suffered almost unimaginably. And yet, she feels that she’s “being blamed for it all”. Miss Gaskarth also explained that she “didn’t get any impression that anything was wrong. Pregnancy and diabetes in someone – I have no idea about, so why wasn’t I advised? I don’t understand, you go to a clinic every week but it seems it’s up to you – if that’s right, what’s the point?”
Miss Gaskarth’s traumatic experience takes place within the increasingly controversial context of diabetes care. Recent data from Public Health England suggests that education is a huge problem, with patients being unsure how, exactly, they should manage their condition, and that there is a massive amount of variation in the proportion of people who have their diabetes under control. That said, tragic occurrences like this one can’t be blamed entirely on one person or organisation. Nobody would want this to happen. So why did it?
It isn’t productive to use this story as a stick with which to beat diabetes care. Neither is it fair or ethical to place blame squarely on anybody in particular, especially a grieving mother. Some of the reports on baby Thomas’s death have demonstrated a startling lack of sympathy for a woman who has recently lost a child.
Ultimately, the problem is too vast and complex to be solved with simplistic finger-pointing. Deeper problems need to be addressed. Stories like this illustrate that there exists a lack of education, understanding, and communication when it comes to diabetes, particularly in the UK. Dialogues need to be established; questions need to be asked; the disease needs to have a much greater presence in the public consciousness. In short, we need to talk about diabetes.