Understanding media spin: a health tech perspective

It’s funny how from a young age we pick up the things that we hear, and repeat them as the norm, even if they are fictitious. Whilst there are so-called blue variations of violets, the blue is really just a darker shade of violet.  Sorry to burst the bubble of all who love poems, but this leads me to the topic of perspective…

Seemingly, in healthcare, mainstream media takes the place of Sir Edmund Spenser – writer of the original ‘Roses’ poem. They take a perspective –something close to the truth, and spin it in a catchy and negative way. A way in which people repeat, until there is a new flavour of the month. Sometimes negative press is warranted, read: Mid Staffs. This example is the combination of many closely relating perspectives, indicating a larger unforgiveable problem. However in the majority of cases, an article sources another article, which paraphrases another…

If you follow the breadcrumbs back to a pivotal statistic quoted, in many articles the context has changed entirely, or scaremongering tactics come into play based on one person’s perspective. I think the public forgets that large media houses are businesses: they operate with the intention of garnering the largest readership, because those numbers equate to advertising revenue. This is the be-all and end-all.

Headlines such as “cover-up at horror hospitals”, or “NHS in death surge probe” are nothing more than attention-grabbing tactics from the company that redefines the term scaremongering: News Corp UK Ltd. Granted, both of these headlines are features in their paper, The Sun, but I have chosen these examples intentionally, given that the National Readership Survey ranks this as the most read national daily in the UK.

It pains me to see the outreach that these headlines have. These two works total 15 and 19 lines respectively – tailored to today’s skim-reader. Joe average will read the headline word for word, and skim the rest. No room for looking at either side of any argument, no time to examine opposing sides of any situation. Articles often cite a single source, who (although they may be speaking the upmost truth) is only offering their perspective; a single take on a complex situation. The media is an efficient platform; the loud minority are keenly offered a microphone in the hope that they can create a new stink around the NHS, to tide the paper over until the next ‘big scoop’. It seems mad that in an era of tightening budgets and lay-offs, bad press lead the NHS to spend money fighting fire; doubling the size of a media relations team and worrying about the public’s opinions rather than saving their lives…

That said, one individual’s perspective is equally as valid as yours or my own. I have only ever had positive interactions with the NHS on a personal level, though. Emergency response has been a hot topic lately (and in some cases with good cause), however it has never let me down, or anybody in my family that I am aware of. I have thankfully never directly been witness to a life-threatening mistake at the hands of the NHS, which is apparently so common.

Of course, any mistake needs to be followed up – with action being taken if required. But we forget that when the stakes are so high, that’s all it takes – a mistake. The NHS workforce census revealed that the milestone of 1.4 million employees had been crossed in 2010. With a number that large, anyone can admit that even with the best training and highest quality equipment, mistakes will surely happen when delivering care, solely based on the numbers. From my perspective, a mistake affecting a loved one would be unforgiveable, but looking at the wider picture; trying to be unaffected by perspective, it would certainly be called an anomaly.

I put my trousers on the wrong way round this morning, and I’ll tell you something: if 1.4 million clones of my blundering self made up the NHS employee base, we’d all be a lot worse off. In fact, I find it a miracle that with such a wide margin for error, staff are able to work in a pressured environment to save the vast majority of lives and deliver exceptional care.

A first hand perspective I have become intimately acquainted with would be my grandmother. She recently fell, completely shattering her ankle, and required emergency response, then surgical care, then clinical care, and later, social care. Given this example wasn’t a life threatening condition, if care was administered fairly swiftly, but at every stage up to a carer travelling to assess her home and executing living adjustments during her recovery, the NHS proved to be a well oiled machine that supported her through to an independent rehabilitation.

Just after the NHS’ 65th birthday, it’s hard to remember that when we read the minority up in arms about the latest NHS blunder, they are just that – the minority: The extenuating circumstances on what is for the most part, an otherwise clean slate of care. The NHS has come a long way and as of this past April, still has a long way left to go… but you won’t read any headlines or articles about my grandmother’s successful recovery for sure. After all, good news is no news.

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