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NHS spin doctors: 'Don't ask us for information'

What do highly-paid NHS press officers do all day? As the hard-pressed Pulse newsteam frantically file stories ahead of the Easter weekend break, it’s a question we can’t help asking ourselves.

By Steve Nowottny

What do highly-paid NHS press officers do all day? As the hard-pressed Pulse newsteam frantically file stories ahead of the Easter weekend break, it's a question we can't help asking ourselves.

For the most part, of course, they are dedicated – and equally hard-pressed – professionals, working to ensure smooth communications within the health service and represent their organisation to the outside world. Many are former journalists themselves, and they have a difficult job, straddling two very different worlds. They have to understand both the demands of the modern media and the inner machinations of the NHS.

Generally in fact, they do a terrific job. I should know – I used to be one.

But sometimes they can be, to say the least, quite unhelpful. In particular, many Government press officers now use the existence of the Freedom of Information Act as an excuse to avoid answering difficult questions. If you ask something awkward, they simply refuse to engage with the question, insisting instead that it is submitted as an FOI request, which allows the public body 20 working days to answer the query.

And now NHS Warrington, it seems, has taken this to its logical conclusion. When a colleague submitted a routine press enquiry last week about the impact of the QOF prevalence changes – one which dozens of PCTs have already answered willingly – he received the following extraordinary response.

I do not recall receiving this, but I may be wrong, if received I would have forwarded this to our FOI lead for response under FOI as this is a request for information not a request for a comment or position statement in relation to a press enquiry.

I have forwarded this to our FOI lead for them to progress and requested that they check if this has been received already.

So, memo to journalists. If you're after information, don't try the press office. They're far too busy with, well… if we asked, I don't think they'd tell us.

NHS NHS Barking and Dagenham

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