The awful cases in the news this week of Baby P, Shannon Matthews, and the two babies murdered by their mother brought to mind the case of neglect which I saw 50 years ago when I was doing my paediatric training.

 I was working on a medical ward and a little scrap of humanity was brought in. Tommy was two and a half years old and was about the size of a child less than half that. He didn’t talk or walk and was completely withdrawn. He looked like those terrible pictures we saw of Biafran children and was suffering from a congenital abnormality which prevented him from absorbing nutritition from a normal diet. It could be quite easily controlled by a special diet and a supplement, which had all been explained to the mother when it was first diagnosed, but, despite many visits from her health visitors (whenever they caught up with her frequent moves) she had decided that it was too much trouble.

I don’t think she was being deliberately malicious, just ignorant, which was of course no excuse.

Once Tommy received the correct diet his development was phenomenal and we Student Nurses took as much pride in him as if he was our own! He stayed with us for 2 months and in that time turned into a happy rounded toddler who revelled in the attention we lavished on him. We were quite sorry to see him go, but we were assured that the Foster mother chosen by the authority was well known to them and was prepared to take him on a long term basis. His mother had once more disappeared and we never saw her again, whether the authorities caught up with her I never heard.