Nurses and other frontline medical staff do a tremendous job of looking after those in need in the aftermath of a major incident, such as a traffic accident, fire or even a terrorist attack.
We know from accounts of survivors of the attacks in Manchester, Westminster, London Bridge, Grenfell and the nerve agent attack in Salisbury that medical professionals routinely go beyond the call of duty in the care that they provide.
In these distressing times, medical staff sometimes face the added stress of having to deal with the media, who arrive at a hospital to report on events.
News reporters often use the hospital as a backdrop for their coverage of a major incident. While they are not allowed enter the private areas of the hospital, their presence can sometimes be unexpected or even distressing for family and friends of patients.
When carrying out their reporting, journalists working for regulated publishers must adhere to the strict rules in the Editors’ Code, which we, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) enforce. We are the independent regulator of 90% of UK newspapers.
The Editors’ Code requires journalists to approach bereaved family members with sympathy and discretion; not to break the news of a death to immediate family; and to ensure their reports are accurate.
Reporters must also respect privacy and stop their approaches if an individual decides they do not wish to talk to the media.
Journalists are also provided with clear instructions on how to obtain information in hospitals and similarly sensitive locations. Clause 8 of the Code states that reporters must identify themselves and obtain permission from a responsible executive before entering non-public areas of hospitals or similar institutions to pursue enquiries.
“If someone has made it clear that they do not want to speak to reporters, you can advise them to contact the IPSO, or contact the IPSO on their behalf”
When newspapers are found to have breached these rules, the IPSO can force a newspaper to publish a correction. We decide the wording and even the font size. On 17 occasions, we have ruled that a reference to an IPSO ruling must appear on a newspaper’s front page.
In the vast majority of cases, journalists comply with the rules, but what can nurses do if they are worried about press behaviour?
If someone has made it clear that they do not want to speak to reporters, you can advise them to contact the IPSO, or contact the IPSO on their behalf.
The IPSO has a 24-hour harassment helpline to offer support and advise to those who believe they are the subject of press intrusion. The IPSO also has the power to issue private advisory notices. These notices make it clear to reporters that the individual doesn’t want to be contacted. To date, we have issued more than 150 private advisory notices.
The notices are extremely effective as a tool to tackle media “scrums”, or to prevent harassment, and can also pass on concerns about the potential publication of intrusive or private information, or help people find space at a time of grief or shock – making clear, for example, that those who have suffered a bereavement do not want to talk to the press.
Too often people might think they are helpless in the face of newspapers. The IPSO is here to ensure they are not. We can help you in the aftermath of any event to make sure those affected are properly supported.
Matt Tee is chief executive of the Independent Press Standards Organisation