Ruling

09796-21 Albany House Surgery v Worcester News

    • Date complaint received

      17th March 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09796-21 Albany House Surgery v Worcester News

Summary of Complaint

1. Albany House Surgery complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Worcester News breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Stuck in gravel at GP”, published on 13 September 2021.

2. The article reported that “a stranger had to rescue” a patient outside of her GP after her wheelchair became “stuck in the gravel” whilst she tried to sign in to the surgery. It reported that “Patients at Albany House Surgery, Albany Terrace, must now cross over gravel and grass to sign in at a marquee next to the receptionists’ window.” The article contained a series of quotes from the patient who told the newspaper that she had been “told off” at a previous appointment for entering the surgery directly, and stated that “there [was] no other way apart from going over the gravel”. The GP Surgery was reported as saying that “it would not be commenting on the story”. The article contained a photograph of the patient and a photograph of the marquee, gravel and retractable queue barrier.

3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Lack of wheelchair access leaves woman stuck in gravel at Albany House GP Surgery” and was published on 10 September.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as there was wheelchair access at the surgery. It provided an image of the front of the surgery which had signs requesting patients check in at the side of the building. It also had a sign advising that if persons “cannot cross the gravel” they should ring the doorbell to receive assistance. The complainant said that the marquee referenced in the article was not for patient use at the time of the incident - and that previously it had only been used for coronavirus vaccinations, but never for signing into the surgery. The complainant said there was a single, clearly signposted, entrance to the surgery that was wheelchair accessible and complied with the Equality Act 2010.

5. The complainant noted that the newspaper had contacted it for comment but stated that it did not consider it ethically correct to publicly criticise a patient of the surgery. It also said that had a reporter from the publication come to the surgery, they would have been able to see that there was wheelchair access. The complainant said that the online headline and the statement that “patients […] must now cross over gravel and grass to sign in at a marquee next to the receptionists’ window” were incorrectly reported as fact. The complainant said that the article had led to distress amongst patients, abuse of staff members at the surgery, and requested that the newspaper apologise for the inaccuracies.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it had called the GP surgery prior to the publication of the article and waited for 90 minutes in order to talk to the receptionist; however, it was told “no comment”. It also provided an email to the complainant of 9 September which set out the allegations made by the patient, and said it had also contacted the complainant via their online form, although due to the nature of this correspondence it could not provide this to IPSO. On receipt of the complaint, it offered to report the complainant’s comments as a follow up article.

7. The publication said it had interviewed the patient, who had been willing to be named and photographed. The patient had also supplied the photograph of the marquee, gravel and retractable queue barrier included within the article. After receiving the complaint the publication went back to the patient, who confirmed her story and said that on a previous visit she had been asked to leave the main building as she had not had a temperature check in the marquee. The publication said that the patient had not seen any signs regarding wheelchair access, and that, in any case, in order to check in to the surgery at the side of the building she would have been forced to cross gravel in her wheelchair.

8. The publication published the following clarification to the online article under the headline:

On September 28, Albany House Surgery confirmed that it does have wheelchair access which does not require patients to cross the stones. The surgery said the marquee was for covid vaccinations only and it is due to be removed soon. The surgery confirmed a notice on its front door does direct people to the side of the building but pointed out that a second notice says: "If you cannot cross the gravel, please ring the doorbell and a team member will assist you."

It also published the following in print on page 7:

In an article in the Worcester News on September 13, headlined 'Stuck in gravel at GP' we reported how a patient was unhappy about the disabled access to Albany House GP Surgery in Worcester. The patient said she attempted to cross an area of gravel to reach a temporary reception where temperatures were checked, but her wheelchair became stuck in the stones, requiring her to seek the help of a stranger. The surgery has since clarified that it does have wheelchair access which does not require patients to cross the stones. The surgery confirmed a notice on its front door does direct people to the side of the building but said a second notice says: "If you cannot cross the gravel, please ring the doorbell and a team member will assist you."

9. The complainant said that the publication of the corrections did not resolve its complaint, as the online headline was still inaccurate, and had not been amended from stating that patients “must now cross over gravel and grass to sign in at a marquee next to the receptionists' window.” It also said it was misleading to show photographs of the surgery which omitted the signs regarding accessible entry.

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

10. The complainant was not in a position to dispute the publication’s reporting of the patient’s account of her experience. The complainant was, however, concerned that the newspaper had reported as fact that “Patients at Albany House Surgery, Albany Terrace, must now cross over gravel and grass to sign in at a marquee next to the receptionists’ window”, which was not accurate. The headline of the online version of the article reported that “Lack of wheelchair access leaves woman stuck in gravel at Albany House GP Surgery”. The complainant considered that this was also a factual inaccuracy, as there was wheelchair access, and that people who were not able to go over the gravel were exempted and informed of this by a sign on the entrance to the surgery. 

11. After interviewing the patient, the publication had emailed the complainant seeking its comments on the patient’s claims, and contacted it again via telephone when informed via email that it did not intend to comment on the story. As the publication had accurately reported the account of the patient, and had attempted to contact the complainant in advance of publication in order to seek its comments on the claims, and given the nature of the story – one patient’s account of her experiences of using a local service – the Committee considered that the publication had demonstrated that it had taken care not to publish inaccurate information, and therefore there was no breach of Clause 1(i).

12. After the article had been published, the complainant produced photographs of a sign on the front of the surgery which stated that patients who could not cross the gravel should ask for assistance and provided its policy regarding signing into the surgery. This information did not disprove the patient’s account of her experiences, and the publication was entitled to publish her account where clearly distinguished as such. However, it also reported, as fact, the surgery’s policy on wheelchair access in a misleading way. In fact, it was not the case that all patients were required to cross the gravel as a matter of policy, as the article implied. Given the discrepancy between the stated policy of the complainant and the account of the patient, a clarification was required under Clause 1(ii).

13. The newspaper published a clarification that made clear that the surgery disputed the patient’s account of its accessibility policy, and gave details of the surgery’s policy. The print version of the clarification was published on page 7, where the original article was published on page 13, and the online version of the clarification was published under the headline of the article and therefore both represented due prominence. As the clarification was published during IPSO’s investigation this represented due promptness. Whilst the complainant had concerns that the headline of the article remained inaccurate, the Committee considered that the headline was supported by the text of the article where it reflected the experiences of the patient and, following revision, included the complainant’s position in respect of the claim. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

14. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate because it was not the marquee that was used to sign in, but the side window. However, as the point of the article was that patients were asked to cross the gravel, and both the window and marquee required patients to cross gravel to sign in (unless they called for special assistance), this point did not represent a significant inaccuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusion(s)

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

16. The published clarification put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.

 

Date complaint received: 10/09/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 25/02/2022