Opinion: NHS staff do an amazing job - but we can’t simply ignore the uncomfortable truths

Staff on any NHS ward have David Powles' utmost respect.PHOTO: IAN BURT

Staff on any NHS ward have David Powles' utmost respect.PHOTO: IAN BURT - Credit: IAN BURT

Editor David Powles discusses media coverage of the struggles within the NHS.

In amongst the usual correspondences an editor of a daily newspaper and website such as this receives, was an email this week relating to our ongoing coverage of struggles within the NHS, in particular the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH).

The writer, who asked not to be identified, told how they had been 'incredibly disheartened' to see an article we posted a few days ago asking for people to tell us of their experiences of local Emergency Departments (EDs).

They continuned: "I work at the NNUH ED and cannot commend my colleagues enough for their determination, compassion, professionalism and courage they display every single day they put on their uniforms. I know of doctors and nurses leaving work in tears after making difficult decisions, dealing with harrowing trauma and breaking life-changing news to families.

"We all know our hospital is under-staffed and undefended. We all know that long waits cannot be helped due to ever increasing number of people walking through the door. So to read our local paper asking for people's experience regarding our over-stretched service, and portraying the department in such a dim light, has left some of us feeling very deflated.

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"Shame on you for demoralizing our hard working doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals."

It's always hard to read criticism like that, however, just as the media holds to account others in positions of influence, we should also be prepared to be held to account as well and that's why I wanted to discuss it in this column. I'm always interested to hear the views of our readers about our journalism and how we present our stories.

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It's never our intention to make life harder for anyone brave and selfless enough to do roles such as these where they must give so much of themselves to help others. However, I do realise that when we run stories that are negative towards such organisations, it must feel very personal if you happen to work for one of them.

In those instances we always try to use our leader columns and the way we present the story to make it clear the problems are all too often not the making of the troops on the ground, more the systems and structures they are battling with.

There is a key word in the correspondence's email which I take as justification for our approach and that is 'undefended'.

Our NHS is a wonderful organisation and anyone who works for it has my utmost respect and gratitude. I know from my own times at hospital that often it is the staff through their compassion, care and attention that makes the difference between a positive experience or otherwise.

However, that surely cannot be justification for ignoring the fact that the NHS is also flawed and in need of some TLC. Our main hospital, built too small for its purpose and unable to cope with Norfolk's growing population, is struggling, bursting at the seams.

Similarly, I have no doubt the majority of our mental health workers do a fantastic job whilst struggling with case loads too big to allow them to give people the level of care they need. But, again, should that mean we gloss over the fact our trust has been in special measures for far too long?

I believe the media has a vital role in highlighting the structural, resource and financial issues within the NHS, otherwise why would the politicians and powers-that-be feel compelled to make improvements? Otherwise they truly would be 'undefended'. Sometimes that means highlighting uncomfortable truths and perhaops our survey, which ahs garnered a staggering response, can help to make things better in the long run?

But perhaps we don't get the balance quite right. Perhaps we do need to provide more examples of staff dedication and heroism so NHS staff know that when we do the negative stories, it is not to criticise them?

That's something I promise the email writer and anyone else working in the NHS we will try to do more of in 2020. If you have such a story please do just let me know.

* My new year has seen a return to early morning wake ups and hours of pain even before I've set foot into work. No, I haven't become a father again, instead I'm back on the London Marathon trail raising money for a really important Norfolk cause - the bid for a new Priscilla Bacon Hospice on the edge of Norwich. If you are able to donate and help me reach the £2,000 target I'd be most grateful. You can do so at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/DavidPowles1.

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