For better coverage, the NHS should focus on success stories and research

Looking at the latest news coverage of the National Health Service (NHS) compared with that of private healthcare providers highlights how much bad press the NHS receives. In the last month, the NHS received four times the amount of coverage as private providers, but this focused on cuts. However, it is not all positive for the private sector, as news often mentioned prices, which is one area where it is unable to compete with the NHS.

Research supplied by Echo Sonar

John Gisborne, head of UK healthcare at PR firm Hill & Knowlton is not surprised that the NHS gets pretty poor coverage. He explains: “Sadly, its image leans towards that of an inefficient, intangible, giant where over-burdened managers struggle to meet unrealistic performance targets, highlighted by quirky examples of misspend, no access to medicines, or lapses in basic care."

Research supplied by Echo Sonar

Gisborne believes that the reason for this is that it is easy to find examples in the NHS to illustrate political decision making and management blunders, and that this stands to get worse in the current era of cost cutting. To redress the balance, he says, “more can be done to pull success stories from the regional and into the national media. Also, for the NHS to own scientific discoveries and breakthroughs in care, instead of letting its partner academic institutions take all the glory.

"So, more joined-up PR and discussion of work to improve front-line services. Less bloody nosing of health ministers. PROs have a role too – better control of gossip articles detailing spend on plants for the lobby versus the new MRI scanner can go a long way."

Looking at the more favourable coverage of the private sector shows that much of this concerned funded research by private healthcare companies such as BUPA and PruHealth.

Other healthcare news highlights this month included:

  • Mentions of obesity or weight-related issues (more usually with the NHS) – a headline was "Obesity sparks specialist beds cost" on 27 September at

  • Charitable work in relation to private institutions such as BUPA – particularly in the latter part of September

  • Legal cases, particularly in the NHS – on 21 September many sites, including, ran a story with the headline: "Mother wins gastric band legal case"..

PRmoment asked Echo Sonar to analyse UK online media coverage of the NHS compared to the private medical sector, looking at share of voice, daily trend and leading media topics. The research period was 6 September to 6 October 2010.