Page last updated at 18:14 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 19:14 UK

Secret filming nurse struck off

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Margaret Haywood worked undercover on a Panorama documentary

A nurse who secretly filmed for the BBC to reveal the neglect of elderly patients at a hospital has been struck off for misconduct.

Margaret Haywood, 58, filmed at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton for a BBC Panorama programme in July 2005.

She was struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council which said she failed to "follow her obligations as a nurse".

Ms Haywood, a nurse for over 20 years, said she thought she had been treated harshly and had put patients first.

Ms Haywood, from Liverpool, said: "I am absolutely devastated and upset by it all. I think I have been treated very harshly.

Panorama believes that Margaret Haywood has done the elderly population of this country a great service
BBC spokesman

"It is a serious issue and I knew it was a risk I was taking but I thought the filming was justified and it was in the public interest.

"I always made it clear to the BBC that patients would come first at all times."

She said she had voiced her concerns through her immediate line manager "but nothing was really taken on board" and the whole process now needed to be reviewed.

'Patients' dignity compromised'

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Whistle-blowers already have full protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act passed by this Government.

"We expect that any member of staff who reports concerns about the safety or quality of care to be listened to by their managers and action taken to address their concerns."

She was found guilty of misconduct on Wednesday following a fitness to practise hearing.

The panel said she "followed the behest of the filmmakers... rather than her obligations as a nurse".

The chair of the panel, Linda Read, said Ms Haywood had prioritised the filming, which in the view of the panel "was a major breach of the code of conduct".

She said: "A patient should be able to trust a nurse with his/her physical condition and psychological wellbeing without that confidential information being disclosed to others.

HAVE YOUR SAY
How can the NMC expect respect and confidence from the public they are supposed to be serving when they react in this deplorable and protectionist manner?
Graham, Canterbury

"Although the conditions on the ward were dreadful, it was not necessary to breach confidentiality to seek to improve them by the method chosen.

She said the misconduct was "fundamentally incompatible with being a nurse".

"The registrant could have attempted to address shortcomings by other means. But this was never a course of action which she fully considered."

Ms Haywood had admitted breaching patient confidentiality but denied her fitness to practise had been impaired.

This makes total nonsense of all the talk about openness and transparency in the NHS. Cover-up is the order of the game
Joyce Robins, Patient Concern

Elizabeth Bloor, the BBC programme's producer, told the hearing there had been "an over-arching public interest" to produce the Undercover Nurse documentary because Panorama had received up to 5,000 complaints about conditions.

In November the panel found no evidence that Ms Haywood broke the NHS Trust's policy on whistle-blowing by raising concerns about patient care in the documentary, or that she failed to assist colleagues when a patient was having a seizure.

A BBC spokesman said: "There was clearly a strong public interest in revealing that some elderly people were not receiving the level of care we expect from our national health service.

"Panorama believes that Margaret Haywood has done the elderly population of this country a great service."

'Right and proper'

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said its code of conduct stated that surreptitious means of gaining information were permissible in the public interest, and the same should apply to whistle-blowers.

Tim Gopsill, of the NUJ, said: "Sometimes the only way to get anything done is to go to the media. No-one could possibly argue that this story was not in the public interest."

The panel's ruling was also criticised by Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern.

She said: "This just demonstrates the priorities of the regulators - rules come before patients every time. The message that goes out to nurses is: however badly you see patients treated, keep your face shut.

"This makes total nonsense of all the talk about openness and transparency in the NHS. Cover-up is the order of the game."

Ms Haywood's actions were also defended by Gary Fitzgerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse.

He said: "We know that we're seeing older people suffering the most appalling care and neglect too often in our care environments.

"In that context I believe what Margaret Haywood did and what Panorama did was right and proper."



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