In our campaign, media coverage was crucial to ensure that our voices were heard. The initial article in The Guardian that blew the whole story open came via a personal contact (the journalist was the friend of a friend of mine), but there are lots of ways of alerting the media to your story.
National newspaper journalists read the medical trade publications – such as Pulse – for stories, so do make sure you are alerting them to your plight (you can email the editor privately at email@example.com).
We also circulated press releases to the major newspapers’ news desks, whose email addresses are on their websites. We kept details of anyone who rang us or emailed and included them in any subsequent press releases. That way we built up quite a contact list.
You can use press releases to announce some important piece of news in the progress of the campaign. Think about the main points of information you want to convey. Always explain how the developments affect patients, and make sure it’s simple – ask a few patients to read it through to check they understand what’s happened or changed. If you are taking action, say what you want to achieve by it.
If relevant, mention who is supporting your action (such as local MPs, councillors or community figures). You might want to include a standard paragraph on ‘Background’ – summarising what’s threatening your practice, when you started your campaign, and what your main aims are. Keep it simple and give a name, number and email where journalists can reach you if they need more detail.
We contacted local radio (regional BBC stations, for example) and London TV stations (we were bold and assumed that everyone needed to hear our story).
Then the TV crew from BBC London came down, and so we invited London Live and ITV too. As the story grew, other channels including BBC One and Channel 4 contacted us to do short and more laterally-extended pieces, featuring our practice.
We have a fantastic group of patients – passionate, articulate and ready to be interviewed on camera. Our readiness to be available and our ability to galvanise patient support made us quite media friendly. We only turned down one interview and that was because of time constraints.
We gave journalists as much information about our situation as they asked for. As already discussed, we took a decision to be open with our accounts and our services, as we had nothing to lose, and we wanted to rebuff the usual gripes about GPs lining their own pockets at the expense of quality care. It was a risk, certainly, but being honest gave our story credibility.
Very early on we made plans for how information should be shared quickly and appropriately to other members of the partnership and also to the practice staff. This has kept everyone on board, feeling part of it and able to offer valuable contributions.
Running a petition on the 38 Degrees website also attracted interest and support.
Dr Naomi Beer is a GP in Tower Hamlets, east London