How the Department of Health fought critics of the NHS across the Atlantic

NHS Debate Insider tells how the Department of Health dealt with American 'inaccuracies and myths'.

Outcry: Americans make their feelings felt
Outcry: Americans make their feelings felt

The Department of Health (DH) media operation pulled out all the stops this week to counter criticism of the National Health Service in the US.

The NHS became deeply embroiled in the debate over President Barack Obama's proposed healthcare reforms, after Obama's political opponents pointed to the 'inefficiencies' of the British system in TV commercials aired last week.

DH press officer Andrew Sharratt led the UK response to the criticism.

'There were lots of inaccuracies and myths being put out and we felt the need to publicise the facts about the NHS,' said Sharratt.

'We worked closely with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the British Embassy in Washington to ensure we were all able to rebut specific accusations and ensure consistent messages about the NHS were provided to journalists on both sides of the Atlantic.'

Sharratt sent an NHS fact sheet to UK-based correspondents on American newspapers and the Associated Press. The DH also used the British Embassy in Washington to disseminate the fact sheet to American journalists.

The UK Government's ambassador for health and life sciences, Lord Darzi, also penned an article in The Washington Post on 17 August in defence of the NHS.

Media statements were also distributed on behalf of health secretary Andy Burnham.

Sharratt said the NHS press office was at no point told not to respond to the allegations in the US.

'It is important that the NHS reputation is defended in the UK and around the world,' he said. 'We do not want to get involved in the wider debate, but we do want to ensure what is being said about the NHS is accurate. It is important we correct any misconceptions.

'The NHS is a major force in healthcare innovations, often marketing these innovations around the world, so it does matter.'

The NHS Confederation, the independent body representing 99 per cent of NHS organisations, also swung into action to defend the health service.

The confederation's press team began briefing the national and regional media last Thursday and Friday. A spokesman said the main aim was to communicate that 'all healthcare systems ration in some way, as there is never a bottomless funding pit'.


- 14 August David Cameron describes Tory MEP Daniel Hannan's views on the NHS as 'eccentric'

- 13 August Gordon and Sarah Brown tweet messages of support for the NHS

- 12 August Graham Lineham is first to use the #welovethenhs on his Twitter feed

- John Prescott tweets link to blog on Hannan's US TV appearances

- Daniel Hannan calls the NHS a 'relic' on Fox News

- 7 August Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin calls President Barack Obama's health plan 'downright evil'

- 4 August Republican-backed organisation Club for Growth launches anti-NHS ad campaign


9,482: Number of people who applied the 'I(love)-NHS' twibbon to their feed*

36,989: Number of times 'welovethenhs' hashtag was used on Twitter*

$1.2m: Cost of anti-NHS TV ads by Republican-backed Club for Growth

93%: Percentage of NHS patients who rate their care as good or excellent**

*As of 18 August ** According to NHS statistics

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