Anger as nurse who exposed ill-treatment of elderly is struck off

By staff writers
April 17, 2009

Patients' and hospital groups have expressed anger that a nurse who exposed serious mistreatment of elderly hospital patients has been struck off the medical register for misconduct.

Margaret Haywood, aged 58, undertook filming at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton for a BBC Panorama programme in July 2005.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council said she failed to "follow her obligations as a nurse" and struck her off.

But Ms Haywood, a nurse for over 20 years, says that her complaints had been ignored, that she put patients first in her actions, that others will now be afraid to speak out and that she is "devastated" by her "harsh treatment".

Those who took the decision are being accused of complacency about the situation facing elderly people in care, cover-up tactics, overreaction and lack of due recognition for whistleblowers.

The makers of Panorama say they believe that Ms Haywood "has done the elderly population of this country a great service."

"It is a serious issue and I knew it was a risk I was taking but I thought the filming was justified and it was in the public interest," said Ms Haywood. "I always made it clear to the BBC that patients would come first at all times."

The panel's ruling was immediately criticised by Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern. She said: "This just demonstrates the priorities of the regulators - rules come before patients every time."

Ms Robins added: "The message that goes out to nurses is: however badly you see patients treated, keep your face shut. This makes total nonsense of all the talk about openness and transparency in the NHS. Cover-up is the order of the day."

Gary Fitzgerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said: "We know that we're seeing older people suffering the most appalling care and neglect too often in our care environments. In that context I believe what Margaret Haywood did and what Panorama did was right and proper."

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Nursing told the BBC and other reporters that parts of the National Health Service did not have "systems or working environments" in place that encouraged staff to speak out.

He added: "This can put staff in an extremely difficult position and when staff concerns are discouraged or ignored, it can often lead to poor patient care getting worse. It is absolutely vital that healthcare staff at all levels feel they can raise concerns about poor patient care with their managers."

The RCN rep continued: "[Ms Haywood] said the public needs to be aware of what exactly's going on in these places, in these wards, we didn't have any other way of telling them and I think that's the point".

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said its code of conduct stated that surreptitious means of gaining information were permissible in the public interest, and the same should apply to whistleblowers.

Tim Gopsill, of the NUJ, said: "Sometimes the only way to get anything done is to go to the media. No-one could possibly argue that this story was not in the public interest."

Opposition parties have also backed Ms Haywood. Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Norman Lamb called on the government to make an "absolute commitment to dignity and respect in the way the elderly are treated".

He said: "While no member of staff should breach patient confidentiality, the bottom line is that Margaret Haywood has exposed the horrifying and disgraceful way many elderly patients are treated."

Keywords:NHS | health | elderly
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