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Reporting Health - The Toughest Job in Journalism? Possibly.

Why do I think that health journalism is the toughest job in journalism,possibly?

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1. Getting information or quotes will be limited by what an organization or a person can say

All clinical staff are covered by professional boundaries of confidentiality which means they can't talk about their work.

In June this year NHS England published a new confidentiality policycovering all staff working in the NHS. It reiterates that non-clinical staff cannot talkabout what happens in their workplace either.

Journalists'Freedom of Information requests (FOI) may be refused. Information about a patient requested by a 3rd party for instance is always bound by confidentiality under the Data Protection Act and will be refused in a FOI request.

It is difficult because you can't ask for information and expect it to be provided - there are many reasons why you might not get the information you are looking for.

2. Medical knowledge is vital

There are subtleties to a medical story that might be missed - clinical aspects are in the hands of the professionals who cannot speak about a patient.

It is difficult because in a medical story it might be exactly that medical knowledge to unlock the story which is omitted.

3. The NHS is difficult to understand

The NHS is a difficult organization to understand and to explain how the pieces of the jigsaw fit together. Since the 2012 Health and Social Care Act more changes have taken place which alters the structure of the NHS.

It is difficult because this makes understanding how the jigsaw pieces fit together in a story challenging.

4. How do you balance reporting on a patient's story?

This article in the Daily Mail in 2008 and the response at the bottom of the article from the Royal Marsden Hospital is a good example of how an in depth patients' story isn't given a in depth organisational response.

It is difficult because a patient's story may be extensive but for many reasons the NHS may not be able to give an extensive response.

5. Whistleblowing or public interest?

Although the Francis Enquiry said that whistle blowing - the disclosure of something illegal or dishonest or activity that puts a person or people at risk - should become easier, the history of Cardiologist and whistleblower Raj Mattucontradicts the impression that constructive criticism of the NHS is welcome.

It is difficult because it might not be easy to get information about a story that is critical of the NHS.

6. Compromise Agreements for staff who have left the NHS

Some employers will ask staff to sign compromise agreements if they have left the NHS. This means staff will not be able to speak about the circumstances around their leaving work if this mutual agreement is in place.

It is difficult because that means not talking to the press even if it is in the public interest.

7. Information from press releases

Here are some press releases from Northumbria NHS Trust. They are stories about the hospital but constructed in this way because it is what the hospital wants the message to the public to contain.

It is difficult because sometimes after reading information in press releases journalists need extra digging to find an angle or deeper information about a story.

8. Getting patients' stories might be difficult too

A patient or a patient's family might not want to speak about a story.

Getting the balance from the patients side might be difficult too.

9. The police or social services might be involved

The law affects how stories can be reported. This might make it difficult to construct a complete story even if the information is known.

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Posted in Photograph Post Date 01/29/2018


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