Reporting the pandemic: challenges of covering "the biggest story of our lives"
25 March 2021
Leading national journalists have described in vivid detail the drama, the pressures and the challenges of reporting the pandemic, one year on from the start of the first lockdown.
In The Provider podcast: reporting the pandemic the health editors at the BBC, The Guardian and The Times – Hugh Pym, Denis Campbell and Kat Lay – share compelling recollections of covering the impact of COVID-19, which placed the NHS at the heart of our national story day in day out, for month after month.
In a frank and freewheeling conversation with NHS Providers' director of communications (and former BBC health correspondent) Adam Brimelow, they describe the editorial, logistical and psychological pressures they have faced.
- Denis Campbell discusses the impact of working in new ways on "the biggest story of our lives" which he found exhausting but also exhilarating as a professional challenge.
- Kat Lay reflects on how personal experiences have shaped perceptions of the NHS through the COVID-19 pandemic, and looking ahead, talks about the importance of care for patients with other conditions "in terms of its reputation and its relationship with the general public."
- Hugh Pym describes the atmosphere in the BBC newsroom as Boris Johnson went into intensive care, as people realised "we were on the verge of something tragic and catastrophic – personally for Boris Johnson potentially – but also for the future of government during this crisis."
All three editors spoke of the key role played by NHS Providers in their media work during the pandemic, and in particular the contributions from chief executive Chris Hopson and deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery, in explaining developments, sharing perspectives from the front line and – when necessary – challenging the official version of events.
Hugh Pym highlighted the work of NHS Providers in briefing the media:
"NHS Providers has been very helpful to us as journalists. You were able to convey the views of trust leaders, and I remember Chris in the height of the first wave, being able to explain how close hospitals were to very serious situations, which obviously reflected what was really going on. He and Saffron were prepared to step up there and tell us what was going on."
Denis Campbell also paid tribute:
"I remember Chris and Saffron both being very honest about the big problems in PPE supply for NHS frontline staff and also being among the first people to be rightly cautious and sceptical about the claimed success – which turned out to be an illusion – of the government's test and trace programme. Things like this: they called it like it was and by doing so helped journalism and helped serve the public interest."
Notes to editors
The Provider podcast: reporting the pandemic is the first in a series of podcasts to mark the one year anniversary of the lockdown in response to COVID-19. Future editions will focus on key issues such as workforce pressures and the legacy of the pandemic. Contributors will include the former health and social care secretary Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, the national medical director of NHS England Professor Stephen Powis, and a number of trust chief executives. We will also be hearing from Chris Hopson and Saffron Cordery.