Expert Eye: National newspaper health sections

Breaking news, human interest, humour and agony – there’s every type of story in a health section, which makes editing one such a power and a privilege.

In any review of the weekly sections, I have to start with the Daily Mail. Good Health, with its mammoth 12 pages and high story count, is acknowledged as the standard to which many others aspire.

Its strong two-page opener told the story of a six-year-old boy whose personality changed terribly while taking steroids as part of leukemia treatment.

It turned out he had been overdosing on the drugs after a pharmacist got the prescription dose wrong – one of thousands of patients who have experienced ‘medication-related harm”. This was a classic human interest story, backed up by hard facts and figures, with a campaigning element, highlighting the inadequacies of a system where many prescriptions are still hand-written.

One thing the Mail doesn’t do, unlike most others, is have a doctor answering readers’ health queries. In Sun Health, ‘Medicine Man’Dr Keith Hopcroft, an Essex GP who crops up in various anonymous guises in other publications, fulfils this role, but also writes a men’s health column in the paper for those who only bother going to see a doctor if their wife nags them enough.

This week, he was typically irreverent, writing about heart attack symptoms, explaining that if you ticked all his ‘no’boxes to various questions, and felt sweaty with a crushing central chest ache, you shouldn’t ‘fanny around with crossed fingers and antacids; get to hospital”.

The Times health page, inside Monday’s Times2, was also on the subject of heart health, with an analysis of the row between surgeons and cardiologists on the correct treatment of cardiac patients. At the beginning, health editor Nigel Hawkes uses a wonderful turn of phrase to describe the drugs rationing body – the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence – as ‘the Government’s licensed spoilsport”. Anyone who has dealt with the organisation would have a wry smile at that.

It’s all very well registering as a bone marrow donor, but actually giving that tissue is another matter. The Express had a great readwith actor David Harewood, from TV police drama The Vice, who signed up to the register at the Notting Hill Carnival and was later found to be a perfect match for a desperately sick stranger. In the middle of filming abroad, he flew home to have stem cells harvested. He said that he hopes one day to meet the recipient to tell him the act was ‘a privilege”. And I bet the Express hopes it can be there too for an exclusive follow up.

But The Sun had my favourite story of the week, with the wonderful ‘question mark’headline device of asking whether something incredulous could possibly be true. ‘Can WD40 cure arthritis?’told how the household lubricant had eased symptoms for an elderly golfer. Acknowledging it was anecdotal, it quoted a professor who said it was probably just the placebo effect. But those cheeky Sun subs got the chance to use a picture of the tin man from The Wizard of Oz with the speech bubble:?’Well oil be certainly glad if it can.’And oil eat my (tin) hat if it’s true.

Jacqui Thornton was health editor of The Sun from 2000 until earlier this year, when she left to become a freelance journalist and media trainer

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