NHS media chief 'broadly' happy as Guardian's This Is The NHS project ends

Roger Davidson, the head of media and public affairs at NHS England, says the organisation "broadly got what we needed" from the The Guardian's four-week This Is The NHS project, which concluded on Friday.

On Monday 18 January, The Guardian's front page announced the launch of This Is The NHS, which a spokeswoman for Guardian News & Media described to PRWeek at the time as "an attempt to tell the story of one of the most complex organisations in the world". The first day of the project included an interview with NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.

The four-week project included substantial editorial content in print and online – including a number of front cover spaces – as well as an email newsletter sent to subscribers every weekday until Friday (12 February).

The Guardian spokeswoman confirmed that there was no commercial element to the project. However, NHS organisations are a major advertiser on The Guardian Jobs recruitment website.

Davidson said: "We saw this as a big opportunity to break out of the day-to-day news cycle and encourage debate about the strategic issues facing the NHS."

The project included stories of patients and their families, clinical and non-clinical staff and others linked to the NHS, in and out of hospital settings, including first-person voices and anonymous diaries, and analysis of wider public health issues.

Davidson said he had hoped the project would draw attention to issues including obesity, the funding of social care and the ageing population, saying: "We weren't looking to sugarcoat the tough issues. We actively encouraged the paper to raise debates in difficult areas such as the funding of new drugs."

"Against all our tests, we broadly got what we needed. People in the NHS sometimes feel a bit defensive and got at by the press but this time there can be few complaints," he said.

NHS England assigned one press officer from its team to co-ordinate liaison with The Guardian on the project. While NHS organisations were encouraged to consider Guardian requests more kindly in light of the project, it was still a decision for individual trusts whether to allow access on a case-by-case basis.

"The Guardian team worked with us extremely closely, put significant resource into it, and generally reported with passion and care. You never get everything you want, but overall I thought the series was a genuine celebration of the NHS, backed by insightful analysis of challenges and opportunities."

The project was originally conceived by The Guardian last summer – formal discussions with NHS England began with a meeting in October attended by Stevens, Guardian editor Kath Viner, Davidson and others.

PRWeek understands the project had originally been meant to launch earlier in January, but was not timed to coincide with the first junior doctors' strike earlier the week before its eventual launch.

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