Ruling

00740-23 A woman v birminghammail.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      6th July 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 14 Confidential sources, 2 Privacy


Summary of Complaint  

1.A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that birminghammail.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Radiographer incorrectly exposed child to ‘50 times more radiation during x-ray scan at Walsall hospital’”, published on 5 January 2022. 

2.The article reported on findings by a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) disciplinary panel against the complainant. The article reported that a “radiographer [the complainant] mistakenly exposed a child to 50 times more radiation than needed during an x-ray because they were ‘rushing’, a disciplinary panel has heard”. The article stated she had “administered ‘adult levels’ of radiation to two young patients” and that the panel “initially suspended her but has now said her fitness to practice is still impaired and she cannot work unsupervised”. The article reported that “[a] panel replaced her suspension with a conditions of practice order in February following a review of her performance”. 

3. The complainant said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because she had not administered 50 times the amount of radiation to the child. She stated that she had administered 20 times the amount of radiation: 1 mAs instead of 2.1 mAs of radiation. 

4. While the complainant accepted that she had been suspended by the HCPC in November 2020, she said that this was due to an error made by the HCPC panel rather than because of her personal conduct. The complainant said that she had been able to return to work after the HCPC admitted its mistake. The complainant provided a section of a transcript of a later hearing, from February 2021, which stated: “This Panel accepts that an error was made on the part of the HCPTS [Health and Care Professions tribunal service]“. While the panel maintained its finding that the complainant’s fitness to practice was impaired it ”concluded that the proportionate and correct outcome was to replace the current Suspension Order by a Conditions of Practice order to run for the remainder of the current term of the Suspension Order now being replaced”. She said omitting that her suspension was an HCPC error was misleading. 

5. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 2 and Clause 14 because it was an intrusion into her privacy to report the information set out above and to do so inaccurately. She acknowledged that the hearing findings were online on the HCPC website, but said no one would have read the notes of the HCPC without having prior knowledge of the case. She also stated that the documents had been removed from its website while the article would remain online. 

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. In relation to whether the complainant’s suspension was a mistake, the publication said that documents provided by the HCPTS for the hearing of 14 November 2022 showed that a sanction of a 6-month Suspension Order was imposed resulting from the findings of the Panel. It said this document also demonstrated that the “Order was reviewed on 11 February 2021 when it was replaced by a Conditions of Practice Order for the remainder of the term”. The publication said the article had made this clear by reporting: “A panel replaced her suspension with a conditions of practice order in February following a review of her performance”. 

7. Regarding the point about the amount of radiation the complainant had exposed the child to, the publication provided a copy of documents provided by the HCPTS that stated “The patient received radiation approximately 50 times greater than the expected exposure”, “Moreover, the Panel notes that, in relation to Patient A the dose was 50 times greater than required and accordingly had to be reported to the CQC thereby causing reputational damage to the Trust”. 

8. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2 as the tribunal documents were publicly available (but were later removed after the suspension expired). Regarding Clause 14, the publication said this Clause was not engaged. 

9.The complainant accepted that the child had received a dose that was 50 times greater than required – but she had not given them a dose 50 times greater. She explained that the dose of radiation given/received and the expected exposure were different measurements. The complainant said that had she given an exposure that was 50 times greater, the impact on the patient could have been detrimental, whereas the findings of the Panel stated the consequences in this case were “negligible”. 

Relevant Clause 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. 

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications. 

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so. 

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information. 

Findings of the Committee 

10. The Committee first considered whether the headline was inaccurate to report that the complainant had “incorrectly exposed [a] child to ‘50 times more radiation during x-ray scan at Walsall hospital’”. The Committee accepted the headline did not, in isolation, make clear what was meant by “50 times more radiation”. However, the Editors’ Code makes clear headlines should be read in conjunction with the text of the article. The opening sentence of the article clarified that it was 50 times more radiation than “was needed”. This accorded with the findings of the tribunal, which the publication had provided. The decision made by the Health and Care Professions tribunal service (HCPTS) in November 2022 stated: “The patient received radiation approximately 50 times greater than the expected exposure”. In addition, the complainant herself accepted that she had made an error, and that the child had received a dose greater than what was expected. 

11. While the Committee noted the distinction drawn by the complainant in relation to the measurement of the dose and exposure, it noted that the article was a report of the findings by the panel against the complainant intended for a general audience. Where the hearing explicitly referenced the exposure as being “50 times greater than […] expected”; the complainant accepted that that was amount received by the child; and this was the basis of the panel’s finding that her fitness to practice was impaired, there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and no significant inaccuracy requiring correction under Clause 1 (ii). 

12. The Committee then turned to the reporting of the complainant’s suspension. While the HPCP accepted an error in the evidence seen by the first tribunal, the original suspension order was not revoked or removed from the record by the HCPC, and so remained part of the complainant’s disciplinary record with her regulator. It was not in dispute that the panel had imposed a suspension originally, which had been changed to a condition of practice order. The Committee noted that the article made clear the suspension was altered to a condition of practice order upon review, and considered that, where the complainant had originally been suspended, it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading to omit that a later Panel had determined that the previous Panel had erred. Therefore, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. 

13. Regarding Clause 2, the information within the article had been publicly accessible on the HCPC website and so was in the public domain. While it had later been taken down after the complainant’s suspension had ended, this did not negate the fact that it had been in the public domain before this. In addition, the information contained within the article related to the complainant’s professional career, rather than her personal life. There was, therefore, no reasonable expectation of privacy over this information, and no breach of Clause 2. 

14. Clause 14 relates to the moral obligation of journalists to protect their confidential sources of information. The complainant’s concerns did not relate to this, and the terms of this Clause were not engaged. 

Conclusions 

15. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial action required 

N/A 

Date complaint received: 03/01/2023 

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/06/2023