A recent report on the NHS app was just a government press release that the BBC published as news. But it wasn’t alone in doing this – the Guardian did similar.
NHS: a digital revolution?
The NHS app was originally rolled-out in 2018. As GP Online reported, the app was intended to allow people to:
access their GP record, make appointments, order repeat prescriptions, manage long-term conditions and access 111 services for advice.
Patients will also be able to set preferences for data sharing, organ donation and end-of-life care.
Since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the roll-out of the doomed Test and Trace app, the government has seemed hellbent on digitising healthcare. Now, as the BBC reported, the government is upgrading the original NHS app as part of a “digital revolution” in the NHS.
The BBC: doing the government’s work for it
Health secretary Sajid Javid happily shared the BBC story:
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- Lifted much of the wording from the government press release.
- Reiterated government ‘ambitions’ without question.
- Included the same bullet-pointed claims about what the app will do by March 2023.
- Used the government’s pre-prepared comments from Javid and Sarah Sweeney from the National Voices charity.
The BBC also failed to include comment from anyone critical of the NHS app. Then, enter the Guardian to also parrot the government line. It lifted some of its article from the press release, and also – it appears – from a Press Association (PA) report. And like the BBC, the Guardian failed to include counter-arguments about the app.
If they had bothered, the BBC and Guardian could have said that the problems with the app include:
- 17% of older people and 16% of the poorest people not even owning a smartphone.
- 1.5 million people not having internet access at home – so if they do have a smartphone they may have to spend their data allowance to access the app.
- The government previously having effectively sold patient data – so what are the guarantees it won’t do it with the NHS app?
- A study showing potential issues surrounding accuracy and misdiagnosis during virtual appointments.
Moreover, all of this comes on top of “virtual wards” for coronavirus and the Royal Mail trialling its workers carrying out a “check in” service for vulnerable people as part of its new health division. So, the Tory government’s plans for the NHS app are likely not about what’s good for us. They’re probably more about cost-cutting and farming-out patients from hospitals and to private companies.
The BBC, as a public service broadcaster, has a duty to report all sides of a story. Palming-off Tory government press releases as news is lazy and irresponsible. At best, the BBC‘s failure to tell readers that the story is a press release is bias by omission – at worst, it’s acting like a government mouthpiece.
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