Keeping health reporting healthy
27 August 2013
The NUJ's campaign on health reporting has been launched against a background of a growing concern that health specialists, especially those in the regions, are a rarity at a time when the NHS in England is undergoing major change and budget cuts.
The service has failed to be open with the public and to release information about its performance.
This cutback in specialist reporter numbers is not new – but it does have serious consequences.
The campaign is taking a new approach and focusing equally on health writers and PRs working in health. They face growing pressures at a time when hundreds of NHS staff are being made redundant. NHS PRs work in small, often relatively isolated teams in an organisation that can easily be as hostile as it can supportive.
The ability to "speak the truth" may be compromised by senior managers who are woefully ignorant about what the press does and how PRs and journalists need to work together in everyone's interests – and for the sake of the public.
A climate of fear and bullying, which is far more common in the NHS than is publicly admitted, can make it almost impossible for a professional NHS PR to work ethically or effectively. For the NHS and health reporting to stay healthy, reporters and PRs must be informed, professional at all times, and able to resist managerial pressures against honesty and accuracy.
The campaign has six aims:
- To establish how many health journalist specialists are left, if possible, especially in the regional print press – and freelances.
- To establish how many health PRs there are.
- To establish how common the practice of 'giving someone the health patch' is, with little or no support or training.
- To determine the pressures health PRs face in trying to promote openness and building professional and ethical relationships with reporters.
- To establish and build up a reliable, comprehensive source of information for journalists covering health, so that they can at least be better informed if they are assigned health stories.
- To promote the further training of journalists in the governing principles of health stories and health PR, including bespoke training courses.
Keep in touch with the campaign via Twitter @Healthjournos
NUJ Masterclass on the NHS: the union held an event with an expert panel for health writers and PRs on how to report on the NHS, especially in the run up to the election. The event also launched a factsheet for journalists writing about the health service. You can download the factsheet here.
NUJ promises more help for health journalists and PRs
The campaign to support health writers and PRs was launched after a NUJ masterclass led by Branwen Jeffreys, the BBC's health correspondent, Shaun Lintern, news reporter on Health Service Journal and Nursing Times; Paul Bradshaw, a senior lecturer in online journalism at Birmingham University who runs a blog/project Help Me Investigate and John Lister, senior lecturer in health journalism at Coventry University and director of London Health Emergency.
The masterclass discussed how the profession should respond to the reform of the NHS. Member Kate Griffin wrote a blog about the meeting. Read SA Mathieson, healthcare analyst and freelance journalist's blog supporting the campaign
First do no Harm: This conference brought together a host of international experts from journalism and health to discuss the issues at Coventry University in 2014. The conference reports are now useful resource for health journalists and PRs.
If you want to contribute to the campaign and can offer advice or assistance, email email@example.com