Council's 'courageous' decision on Panorama documentary puts adult social care on the political agenda

Somerset County Council's decision to open its doors to the BBC's flagship current affairs programme was a "leap of faith" that has paid off, according to Mark Ford, the council's comms manager.

Stephen Chandler, director of adult services, Somerset County Council, being filmed for the Panorama documentary
Stephen Chandler, director of adult services, Somerset County Council, being filmed for the Panorama documentary

The cash-strapped council has been praised for allowing the BBC unprecedented access to its staff working in adult social care, depicting the struggle of not only council staff, but also those in need of their help. 

Warts and all

The second part of Panorama’s two-hour 'Crisis in Care' documentary airs tonight. It has put social care firmly on the news agenda and turned it into a talking point since part one aired last week. 

Responding to social-media posts about the programme, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock described the documentary as "extremely distressing", and said: "We must do more to support staff and patients."

The broadcaster approached the council last year. Ford told PRWeek: "When you let Panorama in there's always an element of risk, but they told us what they were aiming do, which wasn't to paint a rosy rosy picture of the council and social care, it was to put into people’s living rooms an accurate representation of how difficult social care is and how much it needs a long-term funding solution."

Risk vs reward

Ford admitted that when it agreed, "it was a calculated leap of faith" by the council and "some of the stuff in there posed a few difficult questions for us", but added the Panorama team were "fair and reasonable throughout".


Filming began last June and ended in March this year, with some 120 hours of footage gathered.

Ford said: "It was a bit nervy waiting to see the first cut of the documentary a few weeks ago, and there was a collective sigh of relief once we’d seen it."

In the run-up to last week’s broadcast, the council’s comms team placed comment pieces in targeted publications to "make sure that people were warmed up to it and knew that it wasn't going to be a puff piece, nor was it going to be a hatchet job".

Ford is delighted with the impact the programme has had. "Everyone who’s seen the documentary has been moved by it, they find it very powerful, it's getting traction at government level. MPs have been watching it and talking about it."

Last week’s broadcast resulted in a spike in the council's engagement on social media, with 100,000 organic impressions in just two days – 10 times its usual level.

Plaudits

The council’s decision to co-operate with Panorama has been praised by organisations such as the County Council Network and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.



Alison Holt, the BBC social affairs correspondent who presented the documentary, said: "We know it took courage for the council to let us follow its staff as they had to juggle the needs of families against tight budgets, but it is hard to think of a more important issue than how we care for people who are older and disabled."

She added: "The pressures Somerset faces are being faced across the country, and seeing these really difficult decisions in action will help many more of us understand the pressures on the care system. Somerset is playing a key role in raising this issue up the national agenda."


Stephen Chandler, director of adult services at Somerset County Council, commented: "I think the social work profession is very wary of a film crew coming in and being in their space for a while because often social workers are portrayed in the media when things go wrong, whether that’s childcare or adult protection."

He said: "I would hope this programme helps provide some reassurance that it is possible to work with the media in the context of showing what the role is without being subject to criticism, and have it presented in a positive, realistic and accurate way."


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