Observations Medicine and the Media

The other Twitter revolution: how social media are helping to monitor the NHS reforms

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d948 (Published 16 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d948
  1. Martin McKee, professor of European public health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,
  2. Katie Cole, public health specialty registrar, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,
  3. Louise Hurst, public health specialty registrar, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London,
  4. Robert W Aldridge, specialist registrar in public health, Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Department of Infection and Population Health, University College London,
  5. Richard Horton, editor, Lancet
  1. Correspondence to: M McKee martin.mckee{at}lshtm.ac.uk

Discussion on social media sites allows immediate scrutiny of government comment on the NHS reforms and dissemination of views from voices that are usually unheard, say Martin McKee and colleagues

Mention the words “Twitter” and “revolution” to most people and their thoughts will, not unreasonably, be drawn to events in Tunisia or Egypt. Yet over recent weeks a growing number of tweets have been discussing another revolution: that being unleashed on the NHS in England by the Conservative led government. As with revolutions elsewhere in the world many of those engaged in these discussions are frustrated by the information they are getting from politicians, whom they often distrust, and from the mainstream media, which they see as recycling press releases and repeating the opinions, not always informed, of the same select group of commentators.

So it was on Twitter that you could read of the immediate incredulity that greeted the claim on the BBC’s Question Time television programme by Caroline Spelman, secretary of state for environment, food, and rural affairs, subsequently repeated by the prime minister, that “someone in this country is twice as likely to die from a heart attack as someone in France.”1 Did this mean, asked some of those tweeting that evening, including seasoned political observers such as the former Liberal Democrat health spokesman Evan Harris (@DrEvanHarris on Twitter),2 that someone in the United Kingdom who had a heart attack was twice as likely to die from it as their counterpart in France? If so, then it would …

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