i Editor's Letter: Because the NHS matters to us


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The Independent Online


Later this year I’m booked to  give a talk at medical school about media ethics and health.  What, I asked a few of the doctors, did they want to know? Several spoke of the damage to morale in the NHS that they felt was caused by frequent negative headlines. How did we, as editors, weigh this against the obvious benefits in exposing malpractice or a decline in care?

I received a recent letter along similar lines from Peter Wilshaw in  Eccleshall, Stafford. “An hour ago I  was discharged from Stafford Hospital following surgery,” Peter wrote. “Everything was superb, flaw- less: head and shoulders above the  care I received at two private hospitals. Stafford was appalling and many  in this area were affected to some degree. My 93-year-old mother counts herself lucky to have survived. But I implore the media and politicians to now leave our hospital alone, drop the words scandal-hit.”

Today’s cover story is a concerning report about the NHS in England: cancer treatment targets have been missed for the first time since their introduction five years ago.  (Wales and Scotland outperform English trusts.)

Cancer treatment waiting times determine living or dying. They are not a matter of convenience. Doctors say off the record that the missed targets show how much strain the NHS is under – and highlight the cash crisis looming after next year’s general election. Cancer services are also in greater demand because of growing public awareness and more diagnoses, which is a great thing.

When we put stories about the NHS on the front page, good or bad – and we do so only after weighing the evidence, and listening to credible  third-parties – it is because we care deeply about our health service and know many of you do too.


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