“4,000 jobs could go in NI health cuts” screams the main page of the BBC NI web site currently, adding in the subsequent report (without quotation marks in the original, thus a statement of assumed fact): “The elderly and the most vulnerable will be the worst hit as a result of the NI executive’s health budget”.
The evidence? The Health Minister and the head of UNISON. Did it not strike the BBC that there may be another side to this story? Did it not strike anyone among the reporting or editorial team that the under-pressure Health Minister may just, for example, have questions to answer about his competence given 14 swine flu deaths so far this winter? Did it not strike them that the head of UNISON would maybe have her own agenda?
Interestingly, one of the “top 10” stories advertised in the sidebar links to another story: “Lucrative NHS overtime for consultants questioned“. Ah… so there may be an area where the NHS is not totally and utterly efficient, then? The report contains specific details, clear records, and numerous interviews.
Let me be clear, I’m proud of BBC NI. Its coverage of the conflict was exemplary, its journalists are blatantly underpaid for what they do (much of it well outside hours), and it runs excellent information services above and beyond TV and radio. It offers a level of professionalism and skill which far exceeds what we have a right to expect in a region of just 1.7 million.
However, in the midst of a financial crisis we need from BBC NI and indeed all media is responsible reporting of financial issues. For example, who says 4,000 jobs are at risk? How precisely does this correlate with putting the “elderly and most vulnerable” at risk? Where is the added research, not least the reference, for example, to 920 people in the service in NI earning over £100,000?
There is far more to reporting financial issues than taking the Minister’s biased word for it and trusting the Unions to provide a balanced analysis. I suspect 4,000 is a vast overstatement; that whatever job losses there are will not correlate in any way to putting the “elderly and most vulnerable [there’s that word again, as ever totally undefined]” at risk; and that levels of efficiency of service could and should be vastly improved within the NHS (a close relative of mine, who as a pensioner presumably counts as “vulnerable”, still awaits news of a vital scan two months after he was told he would know about it within a week…)
The Minister should spend more time focusing on efficiency and less time whining about a budget which is more generous than for any other department; the Unions should prepare for reality and stop pretending there’s more money out there than there is; but, in this case, most of all the BBC and other media should ensure that stories are not presented in a biased and uninformed way. The voters have big decisions to make in May, but they must at least be properly informed before they make them.