Three of the magazines which complained
The Department of Health has responded to complaints by six leading health magazines about its press office by offering to meet them.
The news editors of Hospital Doctor, Doctor, Nursing Standard, Nursing Times, Pulse and GP joined forces in March to write a joint letter to Whitehall saying they had experienced “recurring problems” over the past few months with the press office.
Now the Department of Health has apologised for its delayed reply and said the complaints had been discussed but it was difficult to respond to the particular allegations without specific examples to investigate. “We are obviously concerned that you feel you are not receiving an acceptable level of service, and would like to assure you of our determination to address this perception,” it said.
The letter suggested the news editors visit Whitehall for an “informal discussion” with the press office. Doctor news editor Simon Ebbett said the magazines’ journalists were in the process of compiling specific examples and that the problems had sparked concerns about the balance of news coverage. He said: “From the tone of their response and their efforts to find a suitable time for a meeting, it seems they’re taking our complaint seriously. They say it has been hard to investigate the problems without having specific examples, which seems fair enough, although some of our complaints are about the general way in which we are treated rather than individual incidents.
“We are currently getting together some examples and hopefully we can have a good constructive meeting with them and try to sort it out.”
A meeting has been scheduled for 13 May.
The news editors claimed that responses to straightforward questions or requests for information took days to materialise, or were ignored altogether, and that queries that prompted a reply did not address the question that had been put and were presented on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. They also claimed press officers rarely provided background information or briefings.
They suggested that the specialist press was seen as “low priority” with the national media always given precedence.
The letter also raised further concern that the press office had refused to even acknowledge attempts by Doctor magazine to set up meetings with journalists and press office staff. “These invitations have either been turned down or ignored,” the letter said.
By Ruth Addicott