Decision of the Complaints Committee – 25169-20 Mote Medical Practice v kentonline.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Mote Medical Practice complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that kentonline.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Loose Medical Centre in Maidstone could re-open with new doctors”, published on 14 August 2020.
2. The article reported on a doctors’ surgery branch that had temporarily closed. The article reported that the surgery had “stopped allowing patients to post repeat prescriptions at the Boughton Lane practice or allowing telephone renewals.” The article went on to say that the surgery that ran the branch had decided not to reopen it, but that another surgery was in negotiations to purchase it. It stated that the surgery that planned to buy the branch would “begin work in September with the surgery planned to re-open in October”. The article reported a quote from the area’s Councillor which read: “Throughout lock-down I have been lobbying Mote Medical to provide support to vulnerable residents”. The article also contained a joint statement from both of the surgeries, explaining the impact of the arrangement on patients.
3. The complainant, the surgery that had decided not to reopen the branch, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. It said that it had never allowed renewals of prescriptions by telephone, and therefore it was misleading to report that it had “stopped allowing… allowing telephone renewals.” It also said it was not accurate to report that the surgery was planned to open in October, as the surgery had not been sold at the time of the article and therefore there was no proposed date to reopen. It also said that it was inaccurate to report the Councillor’s quote that he had been “lobbying” the complainant as it had not received any correspondence from him during lockdown. The complainant said it had not wanted to provide information to the publication, but had been advised to issue a joint statement with the surgery who planned to buy the branch. It said that it had no record of the publication trying to contact it for comment.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the intention of the article was not to suggest that the complainant used to accept telephone prescription renewal requests and had stopped, but rather that after disallowing patients to post renewal requests, it would not allow telephone renewals in place of this. The publication also provided a Facebook post written by the Councillor quoted in the article on a community Facebook page which said that complainant “began refusing phone prescriptions”, and that the surgery would open in October. The publication said that it had accurately reported a quote from the Councillor that he had been lobbying the complainant, which was also contained in his Facebook post. It also provided emails which thanked the Councillor for his support and positive message from the surgery buying the branch.
5. The publication also said that a reporter had contacted the complainant on two occasions for comment, outlining the nature of the query and was told that no one was available. The complainant did not respond prior to the publication of the article. The publication provided emails it had sent to the surgery that was planning to buy the branch from the complainant, in which it asked for “information please on the surgeries plans to take over the practice”. The publication also noted that a joint statement was issued by the two surgeries, and said that therefore the complainant was aware of press enquiries.
6. The publication offered to publish the following as an addendum to the online article:
Mote Medical Practice has asked the KM to point out that it has never allowed prescriptions to be renewed by telephone.
Relevant Code Provisions
Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
7. The publication had said its information came from a public Facebook post of a Councillor, who had stated that the surgery would be opened in October and that the complainant had stopped allowing the renewal of prescriptions by telephone. It had also included a joint statement from the complainant and the surgery buying the branch, which had been provided after the publication had asked the surgery buying the branch for “information” about the “plans to take over the practice”. This email did not refer to the specific allegations included within the article which had been taken from the Facebook post, nor did the publication email either the complainant or the other surgery to confirm the specific allegations within the Facebook post after receiving the statement. There was a conflict between the complainant and the publication as to whether the publication had contacted the complainant for comment, and had outlined these specific concerns. The publication said that the reported had telephoned the complainant multiple times. However, the joint statement had directly referred to the opening date and had stated that the surgery buying the practice would “keep patients informed as to when the branch surgery will reopen”, and therefore the publication had the information regarding the planned opening date. In addition, the publication had not taken any further steps to confirm whether the complainant had stopped, or had ever allowed, telephone renewals, such as using the complainant’s website. On this basis, the publication had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and there was a breach of Clause 1(i).
8. The article inaccurately implied that the surgery had at one point given renewed prescriptions by telephone and had now stopped and that the branch surgery planned to reopen in October. Where this was not the case, and misled people about how they could receive healthcare services, this was a significant inaccuracy and required correction under Clause 1(ii). The publication had offered an “addendum” to the article, but this failed to identify the original inaccuracies, and did not put the correct position on record with regards to the planned opening date. There was a further breach of Clause 1(ii).
9. The article had also included a quote from the Councillor saying that he had “been lobbying” the complainant. The publication had accurately reported the comment of the Councillor, and had clearly attributed it to him. Whilst the complainant may not have considered the Councillor’s actions to constitute lobbying, where this was an accurate report of what the Councillor had said and attributed to him there was no breach of Clause 1.
10. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
11. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication. The nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
12. The Committee considered that the inaccuracies were not the main focus of the article, which reported on the sale of the branch surgery. In light of this, the Committee concluded that a correction was the appropriate remedy.
13. This correction should be added to the online article. This wording should only include information required to correct the inaccuracy: that the surgery had not “stopped” the renewal of prescriptions by telephone; it had never offered this service and that it had not planned to open in October. The wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance, it should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. If the publication intends to continue to publish the online article without amendment the correction on the article should be published beneath the headline. If the article is amended, the correction should be published as a footnote which explains the amendments that have been made.
Date complaint received: 23/08/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/12/2020Back to ruling listing