A website, www.pulsejobs.com, for a recruitment agency for healthcare professionals and an ad shown on their Facebook page:
a. The website, www.pulsejobs.com, featured text on the “News” page that stated “Last week a registered general nurse was found guilty of murdering two patients and causing long-term harm to several others at a hospital in Greater Manchester. Investigations have highlighted discrepancies in his nursing qualifications, with police believing his certification was fraudulent How we ensure high calibre candidates for clients Here at Pulse we do not compromise on safety. Our objective is to provide the highest possible standards of staffing and our service is under-pinned by rigorous clinical governance policies and processes to ensure that the likelihood of one of our nurses using fake qualifications is negligible … Without all of the required documentation a candidate cannot be placed in a hospital setting through Pulse … ‘Our recruitment and compliance teams work to the strictest criteria, ensuring all mandatory pre-employment and compliance checks are completed prior to joining Pulse’ … The ‘Platinum Audit Status’ formally recognises our continued commitment to provide highly skilled nurses and midwives, that meet and exceed all mandatory compliance and vetting procedures …”.
b. The ad shown on the advertiser’s Facebook page featured a picture of two female nurses with text that stated “Pulse Nursing Fake nursing qualifications? Not at Pulse”. Below that was further text that stated “Fake nursing qualifications? Not at Pulse. Last week a registered general nurse was found guilty of murdering two patients and … pulsejobs.com”.
The ASA received two complaints:
1. both complainants objected that the ads were offensive because of the references to the Stepping Hill hospital deaths;
2. one complainant also objected that the ads were offensive, because they disparaged the nursing profession and their professional Registration by implying that they did not undergo a thorough background check; and
3. that the ads misleadingly implied that only Pulse Healthcare rigorously checked nurses’ qualifications.
1. Pulse Healthcare Ltd stated that the primary purpose of the news article was not to recruit more nurses, but rather to reassure their nurses and clients of the extensive compliance checks they had in place for all of their healthcare professionals. Furthermore, they wanted to show why they had such strict compliance policies by making reference to current affairs within the nursing profession and consequently, referred to the Stepping Hill hospital deaths.
2. Pulse Healthcare believed that the ad did not disparage the nursing profession as they stated that it was their objective to support health and social care organisations by providing nurses who were compliant, professional and able to provide compassionate care. They stated that the ad was shown at a time when, following the events that took place in Stepping Hill hospital, healthcare staff compliance was being questioned and that they wanted to respond to that concern by referring to the compliance policies they had in place.
3. Pulse Healthcare stated that the news article referenced the extensive recruitment process their nurses went through, and how they were supported. They believed that it did not imply that nurses who did not work for Pulse Healthcare were not properly checked and referred to the text “We understand nurses have a vital and demanding role in delivering high levels of compassionate care. Lengthy compliance checks can often be frustrating. We work in partnership with our nurses to find the right nursing position appropriate to both their needs and experience”. Pulse Healthcare stated that the article did not claim that they were the only agency that had such policies in place, but rather that it drew attention to the work carried out by their compliance team and the checks they had in place as explained in the text “… 46 pieces of documentation are required from each candidate who registers to become a Pulse Nurse … Pulse was awarded the ‘Platinum Audit Status’ following the annual NHS Procurement Partnership audit”.
Pulse Healthcare stated that they had now removed the news article from their website and social media channels and did not intend to use the content again in their future marketing.
Facebook stated that they had investigated the matter and that ad (b) did not violate their advertising policies.
The ASA acknowledged that the ads referred to the Stepping Hill Hospital deaths, where a nurse had been convicted of murder having poisoned several patients. We understood that the advertiser had made that reference to reassure their nurses and clients that as a provider of health- and social-care staffing, they had implemented a robust compliance policy so that a proper background check was done on their candidates. However, we considered that by making reference to a high profile murder trial and the sensitive issues surrounding it, it would be interpreted by readers as making an implied reference to those patients who had been killed.
The CAP Code stated that references to anyone who was dead must be handled with particular care. We considered that the ads’ references to the Stepping Hill Hospital deaths was likely to be seen as exploiting a serious and unfortunate event, that involved vulnerable people being killed or seriously harmed, to gain commercial awareness of the advertiser’s own checking policies on healthcare professionals.
We therefore, concluded the ad went further than simply being in poor taste and that it was likely to cause serious or widespread offence by exploiting the sensitive issues surrounding a murder trial.
On this point the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 and 4.3 (Harm and Offence).
2. & 3. Upheld
We noted that Pulse Healthcare stated that the ads were produced at a time when healthcare staff compliance was in doubt and that they wanted to respond to that concern by referring to the compliance policies they had in place. Furthermore, they believed that the ads did not imply that nurses who did not work for them were not properly checked and pointed out that ad (a) had referred to the extensive recruitment process their nurses undertook, and how they were supported.
However, we noted that ad (a) included text that stated “Here at Pulse we do not compromise on safety”, “the likelihood of one our nurses using fake qualifications is negligible”, “Without all of the required documentation a candidate cannot be placed in a hospital setting through Pulse”. Furthermore, ad (b) included text that stated “Fake nursing qualifications? Not at Pulse”. We considered that this suggested that, unlike those who were registered with Pulse Healthcare, nurses in general did not undergo a thorough background check. Therefore, we concluded that the ads misleadingly implied that, unlike the nurses from Pulse Heathcare, there were many nurses who were not subject to rigorous background checks, including their qualifications and by disparaging the nursing profession beyond those registered with the advertiser, were likely to cause serious or widespread offence
On this point the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading Advertising), 3.33 (Comparisons with Identifiable Competitors) and 4.1 (Harm and Offence).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Pulse Healthcare Ltd that they must take particular care when referring to sensitive or current events in their future marketing so as to avoid causing serious or widespread offence. Furthermore, their advertising must not state or suggest that nurses in general did not undergo a thorough background check and that only they conducted such vigorous checks.
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