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Ethical lessons from the ‘undercover nurse’: implications for practice and leadership
  1. Paul Grant
  1. Correspondence to Dr Paul Grant, Brighton Business School, University of Brighton, Moulsecoomb Campus, Lewes Road, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 4AT, UK; drpaul.grant{at}


Background The case of Margaret Haywood, the ‘undercover nurse’, is a significant one for the UK's National Health Service (NHS). She investigated complaints made about the Royal Sussex County Hospital and covertly filmed inpatients experiencing care detrimental to their health. The material was subsequently broadcast on the BBC's Panorama programme. It caused a scandal and brought about changes at the hospital, as well a demand for greater clinical leadership. Margaret Haywood was, however, struck off the nursing register for breaching confidentiality and because of the methods she used to blow the whistle.

Methods The authors apply the ethical lenses of purpose, principle, people and power to explore this case.

Results This is a morally ambiguous situation in which both the protagonist and the organisation compromised their core values. The undercover nurse used individuals as a means to a ‘higher’ end, and the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust are seen to have deviated from the ethical to the business map, in a contradiction of what the health service represents.

Conclusions These deficits can be repaired by reinforcement of the ethics of duty and ideals on a practical level and the involvement of clinicians to lead at a management level, to act as a moral compass.

  • Applied and professional ethics
  • journalism/mass media
  • philosophy of the health professions
  • professional misconduct
  • quality/value of life/personhood

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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