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First Do No Harm


The NEW e-book on Health Journalism, First Do No Harm, edited by John Lister, with over 300 pages, 21 chapters, dozens of links and an extensive bibliography, is now on sale

Purchase online from
Libri Publishing

First do no harm ...

Second International Conference on Health Journalism

14-16 May, Coventry

Health journalism conference backs campaign to combat growing threat

Delegates at First Do No Harm, an international conference in health journalism and PR held in Coventry last week, left with a determination to work towards better standards, training and networks for this vital specialist area – and a promise from the organisers.

As speakers from 4 continents charted the state of health journalism across the globe, looking at subjects as diverse as cancer reporting and PR ethics for health organisations, there was a discernible air of determination to take things forward. This reached one of the conference's aims with one stroke: to serve as the foundation for a wider campaign to protect, promote and develop health reporting and PR.

Shaun Lintern, now a reporter for the Health Service Journal, describes how he reported on the Mid Staffs scandal, where patients died because of hospital staff shortages

"We absolutely did not want this to be yet another academic conference, with prestigious academics emerging from their studies to tell other academics how important this all is – and being ignored by journalists", said Dr John Lister, one of the conference organisers and himself a world authority on the politics of health policy.

"We were determined to make this work for working journalists and PRs as well as stand on its academic research, which was in itself impressive, so we deliberately invited working journalists and PRs to speak and hear about the realities of what is threatening this area of journalism.

"This situation is genuinely alarming: we could be looking at a perfect storm for health journalism and healthcare, with pressures on journalists to cut corners and 'cover' health with little or no training, pressures on hospitals to cut services year on year, and pressures on health PRs to spin the truth and hide any embarrassment."

This was echoed by co-organiser Alan Taman, himself a former NHS PR who is researching the state of PR in the NHS:

"PR in the NHS stands at a crossroads: will its political masters give it the means to be 'open' and 'transparent', or will the current culture of blame and obfuscation continue?

"It's the PR who has to live with that legacy – and forthcoming changes in the law could mean it's their neck on the line if the organisation misleads the public. There has never been a more important time to air this debate, and conferences like this which set out with a determination to yield ongoing practical solutions for the professionals are a very good start."

Alan was so convinced of the need to keep things moving that he promised all the delegates at the close of the conference that he would ensure all the speeches and debates were available within a month: "Yep, that was brave of me!

But if we don't put in the effort to make this work as the dedicated people who came to conference want it to, who will? The greatest ally of the growing threat to health journalism – and health services – is the easy complacency of conscientious silence. Good intent is not enough. We need more."

The full conference reports and summaries are now available on this website (see panel, right). We will be promoting these, as well as the wider debate, on Twitter: @Healthjournos

Email us at: Healthjournos@gmail.com

Twitter: @Healthjournos

We are opening up an online blog for those wanting to join our new network and help support journalists trying to improve their coverage of health in the next few days: this will be publicised and promoted via @Healthjournos Twitter and e-mail, and we would be delighted if you can pass on the link to colleagues who may be interested.

See this Powerpoint presentation: Why Health Journalism Matters - the opening presentation at the conference by John Lister, Coventry University.

Materials on Reporting Health

The new NHS: dilemmas and issues for journalists

Reporting on our Health Services

A well-attended NUJ masterclass held in the NUJ's Headland House on 11 April 2013. 34 people were there, including speakers

Speakers (in agenda order)

DR JOHN LISTER, senior lecturer in health journalism, Coventry University; director, London Health Emergency (Chair)
SHAUN LINTERN, Health Service Journal reporter; former Express & Star reporter, Stafford
BRANWEN JEFFRYS, BBC health correspondent
DR PAUL BRADSHAW, senior lecturer in online journalism, Birmingham City University; organiser, Help Me Investigate

HeaRT (Health Reporter Training) project closes

but resources still available

Third and final HeaRT newsletter

ALSO now available

Edited podcast videos of two of the workshop sessions:

  • Reporting on Quality in Healthcare (Professor Sue Lister)
  • Reporting Statistics for Health Journalists – Dr David Schley (Royal Statistical Society).
Click here to access these resources

The success of the project (key to the prospects of securing more funding to take the project further and developing more workshops on mental health, care of the elderly and other issues) depends upon registering 'hits' on the official HeaRT website at http://www.project-heart.eu – and in particular its e-learning tools.

These are free to use for anyone who simply logs in and secures a password.

Please log in to the site, and fill in the brief questionnaire.

Pass on the details to colleagues.

ONLINE RESOURCES for training and development of skills and knowledge for Health Journalists

Training sessions London and Coventry
June 11-12 and 14-15 2012
(video links to follow)

  • Reporting on the Business & Economics of Health Care
  • Medical Research and Science
  • Health Care Quality and Performance
  • Health Policy: reporting government health reforms
  • Understanding hospital and other financial reports
  • Reporting on Global Health
  • How to evaluate conflicts of interest
  • Statistical awareness for health journalists

Further links and sources on HeaRT training topics

  • Data mining for health journalists
  • How to map health conditions
  • How to search for medical information
  • How to report opinion polls
  • How to understand statistics

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