Society of Editor’s executive director Bob Satchwell has called on the Nursing and Midwifery Council to “think again” over its decision to stop publishing details of charges ahead of misconduct hearings, amid fears they will go widely unreported as a result.
The NMC had previously issued draft allegations against nurses and midwives on its website, giving journalists a steer on whether they were relatively minor or serious and worthy of coverage.
Since Monday 26 September, however, charges are being listed as “misconduct” with no added detail given, prompting an outcry from a number of journalists in England and Scotland.
Satchwell said: “This demonstrates a clear lack of transparency which would mean that the media would not be able to know in advance whether disciplinary charges were serious or at all newsworthy.
“The move could lay the midwifery council open to a belief that they were trying to sweep allegations under the carpet. They should think again.”
Guy Toyn, director of agency Central News, told Press Gazette the move made it “virtually impossible to sensibly cover hearings” and called it an “outrage”.
He was joined by the Scottish Newspaper Society and agency Deadline in condemning the decision and has called on NMC chief executive Jackie Smith to “urgently reconsider” the move in a letter signed by a dozen journalists from national newspapers and agencies.
Deadline managing editor Peter Laing has said his firm can no longer afford to send a journalist to cover the hearings in Scotland, where he claimed a significant majority of the 900 yearly tribunals were held.
“It’s a big commitment of time and effort on our part to cover these cases anyway,” he said.
“We can’t just go along in the hopes that something interesting might happen in front of our eyes that morning.
“We don’t have any option other than to stop going along to the NMC, which is obviously a note of regret.”
An NMC spokesperson said the body’s decision was based on balancing privacy rights against press access and after new advice from the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Sources told Press Gazette it comes shortly after the NMC was said to have been “embarrassed” by the release of incorrect draft charges, published by the media, relating to the case of Ebola nurse Pauline Cafferkey.
The ICO told Press Gazette: “We gave the NMC advice about using personal data in line with the Data Protection Act.
“The law says the processing of personal information must be fair and lawful, not excessive and necessary and proportionate.”
The NMC said the changes would “help to ensure fairness to all parties as charges at pre-hearing stage may be subject to change”.
It added: “We will still publish details of each hearing, including the headline charge, a week ahead of the hearing taking place and we will provide a copy of the full charges once they have been confirmed on the day.”