Ruling

Resolution Statement: Complaint 06247-15 Millette v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      24th November 2015

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement: Complaint 06247-15 Millette v The Times 

Summary of complaint

1. Benjamin Millette complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “You can’t believe BMA propaganda about doctors’ pay”, published on 8 October 2015. 

2. The article was a comment piece in which the columnist criticised the British Medical Association’s reaction to government plans to change doctors’ contracts. As part of a comparison between the proposed and current contracts, it reported that the new contract will “set a working week of 40 hours”, and that currently if doctors exceed their contracted hours, NHS trusts can be “forced to pay huge bonuses to whole teams of doctors”; it said that in one example under the current system, an NHS trust was billed £250,000 “because one doctor had worked too long on a single occasion”. 

3. The complainant said it was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 for the article to state that the new contract would set a working week of “40 hours”; the average number of weekly hours would remain unchanged. Doctors are not awarded “bonuses” for work outside of contracted hours. Rather, they receive banding pay for any such hours. The complainant said that the source for the claim that an NHS trust had been billed £250,000 stated that this had happened because one person on a team had exceeded the “banding” on one occasion. Under the banding pay system, the doctor would have exceeded their contracted hours over a longer period of time, rather than on one occasion. 

4. The newspaper said that doctors’ “banding” pay system was complicated. It had therefore reported on this in terms that would be understood by general readers. In circumstances where doctors do receive pay for hours worked outside of their contract, it was not significantly misleading to refer to “banding” pay as “bonuses”, or to state that the NHS Trust had been billed £250,000 when a person on a team had “worked too long on a single occasion”. 

5. The newspaper had already appended the online version of the article to make clear that under the new system, the average weekly contracted hours will remain 40-48 hours. 

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.        

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

Mediated outcome

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

7. After further correspondence, the newspaper offered to publish a clarification in print in its corrections and clarifications column, and online beneath the article: 

The article, “You can’t believe BMA propaganda about doctors’ pay”, (Opinion, Oct 8), stated that the proposed junior doctors' contract would set a working week of 40 hours. Average contracted hours remain 40-48 hours. The “huge bonuses” referred to are technically back-dated pay. Referring to the Temple Report on doctors’ working hours, we said “one doctor had worked too long on a single occasion”; the report stated that “one person ... exceeded the banding on one occasion”. 

8. The complainant said that this would be a satisfactory resolution to his complaint. 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: 10/10/2015

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 24/11/2015