Saturday, 11 February 2017

Hugh Pym says the BBC got it about right

For fans of transcripts everywhere and an interesting, bias-related discussion on this week's Newswatch....

SAMIRA AHMED: Hello, and welcome to Newswatch with me, Samira Ahmed. Vital insight or just demoralising coverage? The BBC's special NHS reporting is in the spotlight....Reports about the National Health Service have been especially frequent on television news bulletins over the last few weeks of winter, but this week more so than ever. The BBC was running a week of special programmes and reports, which they branded as Health Check, about the state of the NHS, including Monday's Panorama and lengthy items on the 6pm and 10pm bulletins on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. 

ALISON HOLT, BBC: Seven years ago this council spent about a third of its budget providing care and support to people who are older and disabled. 888 But now the cost of adult social care is heading towards half of its budget, with demand still increasing and that is at the heart of the problems they are wrestling with today. ED THOMAS, BBC: Inside the Royal Blackburn Hospital. The BBC was given unrestricted access to witness the pressures facing the NHS. SURGEON: We have had patients here for 6-9 hours and we cannot find a bed for them. PATIENT: We were in the corridor for five hours. It isn't what you expect from a country like ours. HUGH PYM, BBC: Hospitals like this one are running at 95% capacity which means they are nearly full so with more emergency cases coming in and difficulty discharging some patients back into the community some of those needing surgery are having to wait longer. 

SAMIRA AHMEDThe BBC;s health editor and special correspondent and social affairs correspondent there. No question about the comprehensive nature of the coverage but some viewers told us by telephone and webcam that they were concerned about the effect of that coverage and that the BBC had an axe to grind.

VIEWER 1 (Dave Cocks): Every night this week we have seen the BBC 6pm and 10pm news leading with the story on the current state of the NHS. We all know there are many problems in the NHS, and there are many reasons for this including bed blocking, immigration, lifestyles, health tourism, waste, bad procurement, trivial A&Es visits, etc, etc. And yet BBC news would rather have us believe the problems are all due to so-called Tory cuts and that throwing more money at the problem will solve everything. Please, BBC, get your house in order and start reporting the news and not making it. This biased campaign should have been reserved for a Panorama programme, not the main news. 

VIEWER 2 (Grace): Hi. My name is Grace. I understand there are serious strains in the NHS and I understand that things have got worse by some measures, however, BBC News seems to be trying to make us feel angry. We have better NHS care than most people on the planet. Please try and help us to feel grateful for what we have and try to help make things better rather than constantly telling us it is a disaster. 

VIEWER 3 (John Carson): Dear NewsWatch, I am not newsworthy because I am one of the thousands of people who have received treatment from the NHS over the last few months who have nothing to complain about but only have praise for the dedicated, professional staff who have carried out treatment on their behalf. This week we have been bombarded by the news on all channels telling us what is wrong with our National Health Service. It is broken. What you have as the BBC is a responsibility in terms of making sure we do not demoralise the staff any more than they are. I asked a nurse if she was impacted by the adverse publicity seen on the news this week. She looked at me as if it was a silly question. 

VIEWER 4 (Andrew Millar): The BBC has spent the last week with intensive wall-to-wall coverage of pretty bad news about the NHS and some important things that needed saying, about waiting times, and waiting on trolleys is a real issue for a lot of people. However, the effect of that is to produce a downwards spiral of gloom and despondency for staff and patients alike. So, come on BBC! It's not that we don't need to know about these bad things and they do need addressing, but I think that the benefit of the NHS and our appreciation of it we should hear some of the good news too. 

SAMIRA AHMED: Well, the health editor for BBC News, Hugh Pym, has been on the news for much of this week and joins me now. Hugh, viewers, as you've sensed from looking at those clips, have felt there's been so much coverage focused on all the negative things - the A&E waiting times, the cancellations - they wonder whether the BBC is hyping up a sense of crisis? 
HUGH PYM: Well, first of all there have been several strong newslines which we would want to cover as part of our BBC News output. We did some research on waiting times, patients who were waiting longer than 18 weeks in England to get surgery. That is the target. They should be seen for a routine surgery, within 18 weeks, and the number is up 163%. We discovered from our data that nine out of ten hospitals are running at levels that are deemed to be above what is normally safe. We've had the Institute for Fiscal Studies has saying that health spending in England has gone up but per person will start falling. And on Thursday, extremely bleak figures from NHS England on how A&E performance in December was the worst since records began and looked likely to get worse in January after documents that were leaked to us. I think it is our job to report on facts and figures about the performance of the NHS. In terms of staff morale, I take on board what people were saying there about staff feeling a bit downtrodden because of this. Equally we have had contact, e-mails and calls, from quite a few staff who said it's really good the BBC is focusing on what is really going on, from senior consultants to more junior doctors, to nurses, saying this is precisely what the BBC should be doing and it hasn't done enough often the past. 
SAMIRA AHMED: I suppose it's finding that balance. There was one viewer there saying they felt the coverage ended up being like a downward spiral of gloom and despondency and that that's so overwhelming that perhaps it needs to be balanced with some coverage that shows what is being...more positive.
HUGH PYM: Yes, I think there has been quite a lot of positive coverage as it happens. On the Victoria Derbyshire programme there was a big debate on health involving patients and staff and other health experts, including some patient testimony on the positives that they found with the NHS. We've had coverage on The World at One throughout the week on different aspects of how GPs are coming to terms with the different challenges. The News Channel has had reports, including one from Airedale, on innovative schemes to link up care homes with GP practices, using technology and so on. So we have tried to emphasise the positives. In a piece I did we had a Yeovil Hospital scheme that aims to look after older patients in their own bespoke facility away from A&E. So tried hard to talk about the positives and possible solutions, but equally stating the facts. which are pretty straightforward. It's a tricky balance but ultimately we are holding an important institution to account, and that institution really should be about providing the best possible patient care and for government making sure it is funded adequately and, equally, it's making efficient use of taxpayers' money. 
SAMIRA AHMEDSome complaints have been that it's felt the BBC has been politically campaigning and saying this is all about more funding for the NHS. 
HUGH PYMWell, there is a groundswell of opinion that the NHS should have more funding, that health spending in the UK as a whole as a share of national income is below France and Germany, has fallen. The IFS during the week have made clear that spending will fall in a way it has never done before in terms of spending per head of the population. We have taken those arguments and put them forward. We've been accused in the past of not addressing lack of funding. We haven't been politicising it. We've stated what the facts are, and there is actually a cross-party move now campaigning for more funding. Equally, we have been very clear that there are some who feel the NHS could make more efficient use of its resources and we have reflected that argument, that it's not just about money, it's about better ways of joining up care, better ways of spending money. But it is an important debate and I think it's only right to address the issue of funding throughout the week. 
SAMIRA AHMED: Hugh Pym, thank you.


  1. Is 'a groundswell of opinion' the new catch-all claim of colour?

    Has this been run up the flagpole by LauraK, Krishna or John Bercow on our behalves as yet?

  2. Well, there is a groundswell of opinion that the BBC should have much less funding, preferably zero.