Ayrshire Post censured by IPSO over report of hospital inspection which focused on the negative - Press Gazette

Ayrshire Post censured by IPSO over report of hospital inspection which focused on the negative

A local newspaper breached the Editors' Code with coverage of a hospital inspection report which focused on the negative, the Independent Press Standards Organisation has ruled.

IPSO said the Ayrshire Post report was was inaccurate and "distorted the report's findings in a manner that went beyond a legitimate editorial interpretation of the inspector's conclusions".

It ordered the title to publish an adjudication, the wording of which it specified, on either page 20 – where the original coverage appeared – or further forward in the newspaper.

IPSO's decision came as it upheld a complaint under clause 1 of the Editors Code of Practice, covering accuracy, in an article headlined "Ayr Clinic is rapped" which was published on 3 April.

It rejected a second complaint from Partnerships in Care that the report, on Healthcare Improvement Scotland's inspection of the secure psychiatric unit, Ayr Clinic, was discriminatory, in breach of clause 12 of the Code.

The Ayrshire Post article had reported that the clinic was "rapped on the knuckles", and described the inspection as a "shocker".

The article gave details of the report's findings, its recommendations for improvement, and its requirement that the clinic should ensure that all staff receive regular performance review and appraisal.

It also explained that the clinic had received "very good" grades in all five inspection areas, and included a statement from the Chief Inspector, who said that it had been a positive inspection, but that Partnerships in Care must address the inspection's requirement and recommendations as a matter of priority.

Partnerships in Care complained that the article gave a misleading and distorted impression of the report's findings.

On all five "quality themes" used by the report, the clinic was graded "very good", the second highest rating. The recommendations made were minor issues and to "cherry-pick" the few negative aspects of the report entirely misrepresented the inspectors' overall findings, it said.

The article's claim that inspectors "swooped" on the clinic suggested that the inspectors were acting after concerns had been raised, which was not the case as unannounced inspections were routine. Partnerships in Care suggested that the coverage was influenced by the newspaper's opposition to its planning application for a new rehabilitation centre in the area.

It also complained that the article's claim that the clinic cared for "deranged criminals" was a prejudicial and pejorative reference to the mental health of its patients. The term referred to the mental illnesses of a recognisable group of people, namely those who lived at the clinic.

The newspaper said the article had made clear that the clinic was rated "very good" in the five key inspection areas, but that the inspectors had made a number of recommendations, which were accurately reported. In these circumstances, the article had not presented the inspection in a misleading manner – it said.

It was not misleading to use the word "swooped" where the inspection was unannounced, or to say that the clinic was "rapped" – these were matters of editorial discretion, it said.

It denied that the word "deranged" was prejudicial or pejorative. It was a word that could be and was used legitimately to describe mental illness, and formed part of common parlance.

In any event, the newspaper said, the word was not a reference to the mental illnesses of all the clinic's patients, nor any particular individual detained there, so there there could not be a breach of Clause 12.

The newspaper denied that it was conducting a campaign against the clinic, and offered to publish a letter from Partnerships in Care.

IPSO's complaints committee said the Editors' Code did not contain a requirement for balance, and editors were entitled to exercise their discretion in selecting – and commenting on – material for publication.

It went on: "The Committee grants editors considerable latitude in the characterisation or presentation of source material.

"However, Clause 1 imposes a requirement to take care not to distort.

"The Healthcare Improvement Scotland's report had been positive; it found that the facility was 'very good' in all areas and contained no recommendations which had a direct impact on patient care.

"In this context, the description of the report as a 'shocker' and claim that the clinic had been 'rapped' distorted the report's findings in a manner that went beyond a legitimate editorial interpretation of the inspector's conclusions."

While the newspaper had included some accurate details of the findings, this was not sufficient to correct the distorted impression given by the article as a whole.

The newspaper had failed to take care not to publish distorted information.

On the discrimination complaint, the committee said the reference to "deranged criminals" related to a distinct class of individuals resident at the clinic, so clause 12 was engaged.

It went on: "However, the committee was satisfied that the term 'deranged', while pejorative, was used with reference to those individuals' criminal behaviour; it was not therefore discriminatory in relation to their mental health specifically."