As the BBC Wales investigative journalists exposed a violent white supremacist gang located in a small village, BBC Scotland’s ‘Disclosure Series’ team were visiting some sad people who had experience of living on an NHS Scotland waiting list. However, the choice of topic is only the first reservation we need have, the nature of the reporting itself is, as will be illustrated, somewhat remote from any idea of investigative journalism but also, lacked many of the features of journalism in its most basic sense.
Perhaps, the team’s previous experience attempting to investigate the unethical transport of young calves to Spain (The Dark Side of Dairy! Bournville?) which resulted in them both using film of Hungarian calves being shipped onto Romanian ferries instead of Scottish calves being shipped onto Northern Ireland ferries (ref below) and, laughably, following the wrong lorry all the way to Spain, has caused them to try to play safe this time. Their other two ‘investigations’ in the series have gone for malpractice by one NHS surgeon and child abuse in one care home. Now why didn’t they fancy Dark Money, the DUP and the Scottish Tories? Might somebody get punched? To be fair, this report does not mistakenly feature any Tibetan folk suffering because of long waiting lists for treatment there.
The second of the two questions in the title above, is answered using these six tests (like Labour!):
Did Disclosure: Life on the NHS List:
- help me understand what it feels like to wait longer than I should have to for treatment?
- include examples of people who had been treated by NHS Scotland within the target times?
- inform me how common it is to wait longer than the target times?
- inform me of reasons why target times are not being met such as increased demand?
- explain any problems with interpreting waiting time statistics?
- give a balanced account based on all of the above?
The first question is really answered already. This programme is labelled ‘investigative series.’ Based on government waiting list statistics in the public domain and already reported repeatedly on BBC Scotland news followed up by visits to interviewees unthreatened in any way, this study could have been carried out by an S4 Media Studies group of pupils. While the previous investigation into the transport of calves might have had at least a wee bit of risk for the team, this topic is the stuff of everyday regular reporting of the kind you see across the tabloid press.
Is it then just journalism, at least of a reasonably professional quality? See this:
Did Disclosure: Life on the NHS List:
- help me understand what it feels like to wait longer than I should have to for treatment? The programme had several extended interviews in which more than one person cried and in which all were very upset by their experience. These were undeniably cases where delays mattered. We could hardly fail to empathise.
- include examples of people who had been treated by NHS Scotland within the target times? The programme’s title does not restrict the survey to only those waiting too long. ‘Life on the NHS List’ by definition should include a sample of the many thousands who were seen within the target time to discover how they felt. For around 80% of the time allocation, we watched and listened to the presenter with four individuals, two of whom sobbed as they described their pain or anxiety. The lingering of interviewer and close up camera on these faces was positively morbid and emotionally exploitative. It’s not clear how this small sample, presented in this way, informed us usefully about the experience of the thousands on waiting lists. We heard of two special cases including a smug individual who had gone to France for the treatment and somehow persuaded his local board to pay for much of it. It’s not clear how these two cases informed us usefully.
- inform me how common it is to wait longer than the target times? Official figures were not presented though these are available. Did the official figures where around 70% of patients are seen within the target times not satisfy the programme-makers need to sensationalise and to shock? Though the targets are higher, might many viewers, based on their experience of 70% representing considerable success in other contexts such as in exams, think 70% is OK? Instead we saw unsourced, uncontextualized and dramatically illustrated, cumulative figures designed to shock audiences.
- inform of me of reasons why target times are not being met such as because of massively increased demand? There was no attempt to do so quantitatively beyond passing comments regarding ‘pressure on staff’. Such data is easily accessed.
- explain any problems with interpreting waiting time statistics? These were taken at face value other than to suggest, based on conversation with one unidentified professional, that there are secret waiting lists which are even longer.
- give a balanced account based on all of the above? The programme was horribly unbalanced with around 90% of the time allocated to interview and observation. Interviews and observations of a handful of individuals as they offered the interviewer helpful soundbites such as ‘Why could they not take me sooner’ and ‘You’re trying so hard to fight the condition and the pain’ and as she told us that she, in one case, while leading a dancing class, was in ‘absolute agony’ dominated. Maybe it’s my pathetic male pain threshold but if I was in absolute, absolute mind, agony, I doubt I’d be walking around talking to an interviewer. Interviews with the minister responsible were used to elicit the expected political response confirming the interviewer’s stunning insights that failure to meet targets is bad, that improvements are always needed and that the statistics don’t tell the full story of pain and anxiety. Frankly, like most viewers, I don’t need repeated endless morbidly explicit demonstrations of suffering to help me understand that there is real pain behind the statistics. I’ve been there, done that, get it. What I need are objective and fair assessments of the situation, across the country, with meaningful explanation of the problematic nature of targets in health care, an account of the recent funding reductions, of their impacts and of their origins in Westminster. Most of all, I need relevant evidence presented properly without modifications to sensationalise and to generate shock.