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Whistleblower nurse charges dropped

Margaret Haywood
Margaret Haywood did 28 shifts at the hospital
A disciplinary panel has dismissed charges against a nurse who three years ago secretly filmed failures in the care of elderly patients at a Brighton hospital for Panorama.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) panel ruled that there was no evidence that Margaret Haywood had broken the NHS Trust's whistleblowing policy by raising "serious concerns" in the media.

It also said that Ms Haywood had no case to answer over claims that she had failed to help colleagues when a patient suffered a seizure on a ward where she was working.

Ms Haywood had already admitted breaching patient confidentiality in relation to the programme.

Indignities suffered

The veteran nurse, with more than 20 years' experience, had been facing possible removal from the nursing register after she took part in the BBC investigation at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in 2005.

Royal Sussex County Hospital
Panorama investigated the hospital for six months

She agreed to go undercover for Panorama between November 2004 and May 2005 wearing a hidden camera while working as a bank nurse at the hospital for 28 shifts on an acute medical ward.

She was joined by BBC journalist Shabnam Grewal who got a job in the ward with ISS Mediclean, a private company with a contract to clean the hospital and serve food.

The resulting Panorama film, Undercover Nurse, revealed elderly patients suffering neglect and a series of indignities, which included patients being left hungry and thirsty and being made to wait hours to go to the toilet.

'Exceptional circumstances'

Dr Karen Johnson, acting for Ms Haywood at the four-day NMC tribunal, had argued that Ms Haywood was justified in her actions because the documentary led to improvements in conditions for patients.

Dr Johnson had said that Ms Haywood was "proactive in coming forward in raising issues of concern" and accused the hospital's NHS Trust of failing to act until the Panorama programme.

Margaret Haywood treating patient watched by other staff
Ms Haywood and a BBC journalist secretly filmed on the ward

The Trust's policy on whistleblowing offered protection if they had already raised concerns and the concerns were exceptionally serious, Dr Johnson said.

On Thursday the NMC panel agreed with this, saying that under the policy Ms Haywood had been entitled to disclose concerns to the media.

Panel chairperson Linda Read added that the complaints were about the failure to deliver basic care to elderly patients, which "rendered many of their lives miserable".

Left to die alone

The programme uncovered a series of failings in basic patient care.

Patients were left in excruciating pain from terminal cancer because their pain relief drugs were not being administered properly.

The ward did not maintain care plans, which describe individual patient needs, and fluid balance charts detailing when patients have had a drink were not updated.

Patients desperate to use the toilet had to wait for hours because nurses failed to respond and hospital staff were filmed eating patients' food.

At one point in the programme, which aired in July 2005, cancer patient Jessie Mowitt, 86, was seen being left to die on her own.

The programme sparked an investigation by Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, which issued an apology over "serious lapses in the quality of care".

SEE ALSO
Undercover nurse
20 Jul 05 |  Panorama

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