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Reporting NHS performance: how did the media perform?

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 22 July 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:248
  1. John Appleby, director,
  2. Andy Bell, acting head of public affairs
  1. Health Systems Programme
  2. King's Fund, London

    As the NHS has learnt from winters past, it only takes a few high-profile cases of patients on trolleys for the media to dust off stories and headlines of “NHS in crisis.” Facts and figures are rarely allowed to spoil these seasonal horror stories. But when the figures are presented, how do the media react?

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    Reports in most newspapers of the latest set of NHS performance indicators for England released last week made a reasonable attempt to convey some overall assessment of how the NHS is doing, but—like the professor of history when asked by a harassed radio reporter, “The crusades, good or bad?”—they were caught between the desire to oblige with a definitively succinct answer and the need to show at least some awareness of the real complexity of the issues.

    Of the eight major national daily newspapers, all bar one (the Mirror) devoted considerable space to the high level performance indicators (generally population health measures by health authority) and clinical indicators (a handful of measures covering hospitals). Much of the space …

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