“Take care if you want to quote someone anonymously,” i’s staff Code of Conduct cautions our reporters and editors. “Ask yourself what their motivation is if they are not prepared to go on the record. Consult the legal department if you have any concerns…”
How, then, do we justify running not just an anonymous quote but an anonymous 860-word article today? The author works not in North Korea but in our own NHS. She is a midwife in what she describes as a desperately overstretched maternity unit.
She wrote a long letter to i several weeks ago from an anonymised email account, not seeking for us to present her thoughts with any prominence, merely hoping that her experience would interest and worry readers. She was resigning from the profession, she said, distraught that she no longer felt able to guarantee the safety of mothers and babies in her care because of chronic under-staffing.
Occasionally, only by agreeing to protect someone’s anonymity will they speak freely and without fear of attack – be that from a foreign police state, one’s employer, colleagues...
Two of our news editors, Chris Green and Matt Moore, spoke to her and won her trust, showing her our correspondents’ previous work with medics – and how we had protected their identities. Importantly, they established that she was who she claimed to be. We know her name, address and the hospital she works for, but withholding them allows us to publish her devastating indictment of national maternity policy. She wanted to remain anonymous, not out of fear for her own career, she said, but because the hospital where she works is not unusually bad – and she did not want to see it unfairly vilified. The problems of which she writes are certainly echoed in the accounts of other midwives we speak to around England, Scotland and Wales.