It’s all gone quiet over there!

We don’t want to say we told you so BBC but…………………

We have concerns about how the BBC reported the performance of our A&E departments over December and the impact it had on our perception of how good the NHS actually is.

I wouldn’t usually start a blog with a football chant but on this occasion, I will make an exception.

Not three weeks ago our national broadcaster, our erstwhile impartial news source, was claiming that the entire NHS was in meltdown and the tsunami of A&E collapse was imminent.

At the same time, we were reporting a more balanced view which pointed to the fact that whilst there was clearly unacceptable care being delivered, it was much more isolated than the narrative in the press was indicating.

It would appear, as we predicted in our blogs here, that the data (the same data the BBC has been reporting on) points to an NHS that went into winter better prepared and one that has potentially recovered quicker from the inevitable massive surge of demand we put on it over the Christmas period.

Our earlier blogs (available here) consistently showed that whilst the NHS was feeling extreme pressure in certain parts, it has delivered – and continues to deliver – a potentially better performance overall than it did last year. We cannot be surte but all of the weekly markers that we are seeing point to this. Of course we will publish the reality as soon as we have it, regardless of whether it proves us right or wrong!

We feel, rightly or wrongly, that the BBC’s reporting of the situation was a bit ‘red top’ and sensational in its reporting style and tone and, most importantly, focussed on the extremities of the story whilst not setting the context of the broader truth.

Understanding the BBC’s motivation is the work of another man but an institution that we rely on for a truthful, balanced view of what is happening has been found sorely wanting in our opinion.

There have been very real examples where patient safety has been compromised, and these must be addressed at pace, but they are far more isolated in terms of where they are happening, and how often, than the reporting would have you believe.

What could have been done differently? 

Firstly let’s deal with an elephant in the room – money. I have worked alongside nurses in the NHS for five years now and – at the point at which the care of our loved ones gets delivered – the amount paid to these people is disproportionately low for the effort and skill that is displayed. Plain and simple, our nurses deserve more financial recognition than they currently get.

However, out with the need to improve their pay, which could be done immediately but seems to be impossible, no amount of extra money will fix the problem NOW.

It is a source of constant bemusement to us that we hear and see the press – including the BBC, and politicians of all persuasions – swinging from asking for money to save the NHS and stating that there is a huge and growing gap between the number of nurses and doctors (and GP’s for that matter) available to the NHS. So, my question is simple, if you had all the money in the world, today, but there are no doctors or nurses, what would you spend it on

Furthermore it is clear that the models of care we require to serve the needs of a population that is ageing and demands immediate attention (yes you millennials!) and, may I add, one that seems increasingly willing to transfer the responsibility of caring for their old to the state, mean that our current models of acute and community care will need to be completely overhauled in the near future. 

So, even if we could find the doctors and nurses and money we need to support the NHS right now, these probably aren’t the right type to support us as we move forward to improved models of care in the future. Just to recap here MONEY NOW IS NOT THE ANSWER TO THE RIGHT QUESTION. IT’S AN EASY ANSWER TO THE WRONG ONE.

Second elephant in the room, the way we use the NHS is creating the problem (both perceived and real) that we are bemoaning.

The huge demand placed on the NHS over the winter period (see our blog about this here) puts incredible strain on the NHS across the whole system.

The cause and effect of inappropriate use needs to be communicated to those who can influence the way our NHS performs, us!

What seem like a small, almost petty request of don’t go to the GP with a cold, or get patients discharged earlier in the day, sounds like it will make little difference to an elderly lady waiting five hours for an ambulance but the causality between these things is actually easy to demonstrate and articulate.

Applying the BBC’s credibility and reach to a message of ‘Use your NHS well’ instead of predicting and almost promoting its imminent demise will educate the very people who can influence the performance of the NHS the most – us.

You can leave scaring the public to the people that need a good story to sell papers or adverts, BBC. What we need is the facts.

As our parents would say: “We’re not angry, we’re just disappointed.”



Adam Townsend is NHS Operational subject matter expert for VVSS Online. VVSS Onlines makes national NHS data sets available in easy to understand visualisations. 


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