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Complainant Name:
Mr W H Sang

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The People


Mr W H Sang, Chief Executive of Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust complained that an article in The People on 2 February 1997 headlined "£18 million scandal of revamp hospital" contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

The article said that a new hospital unit which had been completed in 1994 was being ripped apart, even though patients had never used it, because "health bosses didn't 'like' the finished article". It said that 80 beds had been taken into the unit for publicity shots before being removed, and listed new accoutrements which had been "torn down" and stripped from the unit before being "dumped". Accompanying photographs showed the unit before and during the refurbishment.

The complainant made a number of complaints: the two photographs depicted different parts of the hospital whilst purporting to show the same unit; the reasons for the alterations were that medical developments, as well as fire and safety requirements, had been unforeseen and rendered them necessary -- it was not because "health bosses didn't 'like' the finished article"; only a small part of the block was ready and this was in 1995 not in 1994; and that most of the equipment had not been dumped but was removed prior to its replacement.

The editor accepted that 80 beds were not used in the publicity shot and offered to correct this error. However, he said that it was right to hold the health bosses accountable for not foreseeing the changes that had to be made at great expense. The editor admitted that the two photographs were of different parts of the hospital, but said that they found a similar area to show what the unit was like before renovation. He pointed out that the article carried the majority of the Trust's response to the newspaper's enquiries. He said that a "hospital insider" quoted in the article was someone close to one of the construction companies involved in the refurbishment.

Not Upheld


The Commission recognised that the newspaper was right to investigate any matter relating to the use of public funds and considered that the manner in which such a story was presented would bear a robust editorial line. In this context, it did not consider that the assertion that the alterations had taken place because "health bosses didn't 'like' the finished article" was a matter which raised a breach of the Code. The Commission noted that the article carried a quotation from the hospital explaining the reasons for the alterations. The Commission questioned whether the editor had exercised the best judgement in captioning photographs from two different parts of the hospital as "before" and "after" but overall considered that their use was illustrative and would not significantly mislead readers. The Commission noted that the editor had offered to make a limited correction with regard to the amount of beds which were used in the publicity shot, and although it did not appear that any equipment had been disposed of, this matter alone was not one which raised a breach of the Code within the context of the article as a whole.

The complaint was not upheld.


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