An undercover nurse carried out secret filming in Brighton because it was the "only option" to reveal the neglect of elderly patients on a hospital ward, a disciplinary hearing has been told.

Margaret Haywood, 58, filmed at the Royal Sussex Hospital for a BBC Panorama programme screened in July 2005.

The producer of the Undercover Nurse programme, Elizabeth Bloor, told the Nursing Midwifery Council fitness to practise panel that "there was an over-arching public interest" in the broadcast.

Ms Bloor told the hearing, held in London, that seeking permission and filming openly on a hospital ward would not have uncovered the true conditions.

She said: "We needed to see what was really happening so we felt our only option really was to ask somebody to go undercover on a ward and that person really should be a nurse."

She added: "Given that most of the complaints we had were to do with medical care, we thought that would be an appropriate route."

Ms Haywood, who has been a nurse for more than 20 years, had previously helped the BBC in an advisory role with a film about carers in 2003.

She agreed to work on the Panorama programme, and got nursing shifts at the Royal Sussex Hospital.

"When Margie went to work at this hospital she was clear from the minute she walked in that there was a problem," Ms Bloor said.

Ms Haywood has admitted breaching patient confidentiality.