Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott intervened directly this week to save the Eastern Daily Press’s mission to get medical aid for a 10-year-old Sierra Leone boy who had been roasted over a fire by rebel troops.
Prescott cut through red tape after he heard Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson complain on BBC Radio 4’s Today on Tuesday that Norfolk and Norwich Hospital’s NHS Trust was refusing to allow the £20,000 operation on badly injured Issa Kamara, even though doctors had said they would work for free. The trust said there was no "reciprocal arrangement" with hospitals in Sierra Leone.
Prescott immediately rang the studios asking to talk directly to Gibson, representing an all-party group of Norfolk MPs supporting Issa’s cause.
Then came a statement from the Cabinet Office saying there had been a change of heart – Issa’s operation could go ahead.
EDP deputy editor James Ruddy, who has campaigned to bring the plight of children of the African state before readers, had arranged for Issa to be brought to the UK for treatment.
Ruddy’s rescue operation was to have been a repeat of the newspaper’s campaign in 1996 when it brought little Tenneh Cole from Sierra Leone to the same hospital for the removal of a bullet from her head. Her operation – done for free under the NHS – was successful and Tenneh returned to her home country to live with foster parents.
Issa’s mother had been forced to watch the torture of her son, who was left with a badly disfigured face and deformed right hand and arm. He was in extreme pain and needed an operation unavailable in Sierra Leone, to correct bone growth in his arm, when Ruddy heard about him from contacts in Sierra Leone.
EDP editor Peter Franzen said his paper had made unsuccessful efforts to contact Health Secretary Alan Milburn in order to sort out the problem.
When he heard the news that Prescott’s intervention had cut through the red tape, Franzen said: "I think it’s a brilliant result that we have got justice for this young boy. It’s just a great shame that there had to be this kind of pressure put on the bureaucrats to get justice for Issa."
By Jean Morgan