Resolution Statement 05923-15 University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust v The Sun on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      18th August 2016

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Complaint 05923-15 University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust v The Sun on Sunday

Summary of complaint

1. The University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sun on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice (2015) in an article headlined “NHS climbdown on Ashya smear”, published on 20 September 2015. The article was also published online.

2. The article reported that hospital staff had claimed that a child had been put at risk by his parents’ decision to take him abroad for proton beam therapy.  It reported that these criticisms had been made in a BBC documentary and that they had also appeared in a report by Portsmouth Safeguarding Children Board (PSCB).  The article claimed that “hospital bosses now admit not having information to back up the claims”.  The article reported that the Trust would not comment.

3. The complainant denied that the Trust had admitted not having evidence to back up the claims in the BBC documentary. It said that while this information was not in the Trust’s records about the patient, the claims in question were the internationally-recognised survival rates for a particular type of cancer, and there was nothing to suggest that the statistics were incorrect. In addition, the complainant denied that the Trust had made the claims or provided information about the child’s survival to the PSCB. The complainant said information regarding survival statistics was supplied to the PSCB by independent experts. The complainant said that the Trust’s media manager supplied three detailed emails in response to the reporter’s questions, and had stated that any of the information supplied in the exchange was the Trust’s official comment. These comments included the Trust’s position that the claims in the BBC documentary were general survival statistics, that there was nothing to suggest that these statistics were inaccurate, and that the Trust denied that it had admitted to not having the information to back up the claims made in the documentary. The complainant said that it was therefore inaccurate to report that the Trust would not comment.

4. The newspaper said that in the BBC documentary, one of the hospital’s doctors spoke directly about the child’s prognosis, and that it was not open to the complainant to now say it was quoting general survival statistics. The newspaper said that the Trust was the only body which had lengthy contact with the child’s family, and it could only be hospital staff who provided the PSCB with the specific information on the child’s probability of survival. It denied that the article was inaccurate on these points.

5. In relation to the article’s claim that the Trust “would not comment”, the newspaper said that a comment from the Trust was included in the original copy, but this was removed in the editing process.  While the newspaper said that the Trust’s responses to its inquiries had not taken the form of an official comment, it offered to publish a letter from the complainant to allow it to put its side of the story. It also offered to publish a correction to address the claim that the Trust would not comment.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Mediated Outcome

7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

8. Following IPSO’s intervention, the newspaper offered to publish the following correction:

In a story "NHS Climbdown on Ashya Smear", 19th September 2015, we revealed that health chiefs had no evidence to back up claims that Ashya King's parents' actions cut his chances of beating cancer and stated that the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust 'would not comment'. In fact the trust did respond and offered an explanation that statistics referred to in a BBC documentary were standard survival statistics. The trust also informed us it did not author a report into Ashya’s case.  We are happy to clarify.

It offered to publish this wording on page 2 of the print edition, and on the homepage of its website.

9. The complainant said that this would resolve the complaint to its satisfaction.

10. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 11/05/2016
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/07/2016