UK hospital admits falling for 'Royal' prank call

Last Updated: Thu, Dec 06, 2012 08:00 hrs

London: The hospital where Duchess Kate is being treated for severe pregnancy sickness has admitted that it breached patient confidentiality after falling victim to a hoax call from an Australian radio station.

John Lofthouse, the chief executive of the King Edward VII Hospital in London, said that pranksters from Sydney-based 2Day FM should never have been able to speak to the Duchess's nurse because VIP patients have secure lines, which connect directly to their rooms.

He said that the hoax was a "pretty poor trick" and defended his staff by saying that they were trained to care for patients, not to "cope with journalistic trickery of this sort."

Michael Christian and Mel Greig, who present the 'Summer 30' evening show on 2Day FM, managed to convince the hospital staff that they were the Queen and the Prince of Wales, despite doing a "terrible" impersonation of them.

They were put straight through to the 30-year-old's ward at 5.30am on Tuesday with no questions asked.

Neither the receptionist, who put the call through nor the nurse treating the Duchess, suspected anything was amiss even when the "Queen" wrongly referred to the Duchess as "my granddaughter" and swore at the "Prince".

The nurse looking after the Duchess gave confidential details of her treatment and of her condition, and even talked about what time it would be convenient for the "Queen" to visit.

"I'm not impressed. I think it was a pretty poor trick to play. Technically it was a breach of patient confidentiality; having said that the information that was revealed is already in the public domain," the Telegraph quoted Lofthouse as saying.

"This whole thing is pretty deplorable. Our nurses are caring, professional people, trained to look after patients, not to cope with journalistic trickery of this sort," he said.

Lofthouse also said that the hospital had "very clear policies" on dealing with callers that had "regrettably" not worked on this occasion.

"What would normally happen is that for patients like this there is a secure telephone line that goes straight into the patient's room and no-one has access to that number unless they have good reason to do so," he said.

"Our advice is that what the Australian broadcasters did may have broken the law, on the other hand they have apologised so we are going to have a long and careful think about what, if anything, we do," he said.

Earlier, he had said: "This was a foolish prank call that we all deplore. We take patient confidentiality extremely seriously and we are now reviewing our telephone protocols."

The call is expected to re-open the debate on the Leveson Report, which proposes state regulation of the British press but makes no attempt to address the issue of the unregulated internet or media based abroad.

Ironically, Lord Justice Leveson is currently in Australia on a speaking tour.

The call also appears to have broken Australia's own broadcasting regulations, which stipulate that live programmes must not treat participants in a "highly demeaning or highly exploitative manner."

It defines "exploitative" as "clearly appearing to purposefully debase or abuse the participant for the enjoyment of others, and lacking moral, artistic or other values."

"2Day FM sincerely apologises for any inconvenience caused by the enquiry to Kate's hospital, the radio segment was done with the best intentions and we wish Kate and her family all the best," a spokesman for 2Day FM said.

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