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Media Training for Healthcare Professionals

Ann Bird Former Health Editor and Executive Features Editor, Daily Express & Founder, AB Business Training spoke at today’s Serious Clinical Incident conference on:

• what do the media want?

• the best ways to approach the media

• how to come out of a crisis

• using social media for pro-active coverage or in a crisis

Ann opened her presentation by looking at the key questions an organisation should ask itself before dealing with the media following a Serious Clinical Incident such as; do you have a crisis plan, can the website be updated, is reception prepared, do you have a spokesperson.  Ann explained why the media will always be interested in serious clinical incident stories as health is something that touches us all, most working people have a vested interest in the NHS, and it's human nature to be interested in other people.

Ann said journalists are driven by the 3Cs; crisis, conflict, controversy and a serious clinical incident will have all of these, she said; "they don't cover the plane that does crash".  If the organisation doesn't make a statement journalists will find those that will and their message may be quite negative - a skewed version perhaps from patients or family due to anger or grief.  Ann said how you are perceived to act can make a bigger impression than what you do.  The sooner you speak the more control you have over the message the public hear. The media is a good channel of communicating your message to the people you need to reach which could lessen the impact of the incident, Ann said; "don't view the media as your enemy, but a possible source for good."

Ann went on to discuss how important it is to say the right thing to the media, and how important it is to be prepared. You need to give a good impression and ensure you don't give out the wrong message which can cause a lot of damage.


This session will look at how the media view a serious clinical incident and how the way a healthcare organisation deals with journalists in a crisis can have a major impact on the incident itself, including patient safety, and how it is perceived by the public.

Attendees will discover how to prepare for a media crisis, so their organisation could even emerge from one with an enhanced reputation.

Ann will also examine:

  • why serious clinical incidents receive the attention they do
  • why some are covered more than others
  • the difference social media has had on crisis reporting
  • the power of an apology
  • the specific obstacles a large organisation like the NHS can face in a media crisis

There will be answers to the key questions:

  • should you have a crisis management plan?
  • what if no spokesperson is available?
  • should only people who have been trained talk to the media?
  • what if the media turn up before you’re ready for them?
  • what if you don’t know the answers to journalists’ questions?
  • how should you handle a media “scrum”?

She will look at examples of both good and bad practice - what lessons can be learned from what these organisations did and, in some cases, did NOT do?

Ann will also show how social media can be an extremely useful communications tool when a serious clinical incident occurs.

Finally, she will also explain what organisations still need to do, just when they think the crisis is over!

Ann's full presentation is available for download at the end of this page.

Summary of the key learning from my presentation

  • For most journalists “serious clinical incident” means news - BIG news, exciting news, breaking news, a possible scoop.
  • We’re all fascinated by tragedy and misfortune, it’s human nature.

- “Health” touches every single one of us and all of our family and friends. It is the most human of subjects.
- It’s human nature to want to read about the one train that was delayed for six hours, rather than the thousands that arrived on time.
- Very often these days it’s not even the media who break a story - it’s the public on social media.

  • It is far easier for just one individual to damage an organisation than it was only five years ago.
  • The more you talk to us, the less we may need to fill our bulletins and newspaper pages with quotes from people over whom you have no control.

- Silence is not golden.
- Let’s not overlook the fact that damage can be done by what’s NOT said too.

  • At a moment of intense pain or grief, healthcare organisations can appear to be impenetrable fortresses of bureaucracy, where no-one seems to be listening.

- An incident can quickly gain disproportionate coverage if it becomes a key ingredient in a broader story.
- I know from our training that very often people are scared of saying: “I don’t know the answer to that.
- Another key lesson when handling a serious critical incident in the full glare of the media is “never speculate”.
-  It’s absolutely essential in a serious critical incident that everyone not only knows what the proverbial red lines are, but stands behind them.

  • You have to speak our language.

    - Whenever you communicate, but especially in the heat of a crisis, you need to hit the round running by getting straight to the key messages.

- Images now have an ability to be even more prevalent and powerful thanks to social media.
- Social media has to be respected as a key cog, not as something that perhaps distracts more digitally savvy members of staff.

  • You should not carry out the highly important, hugely challenging task of handling journalists in a  serious clinical incident, without fully understanding the way to go about it and the “rules of engagement”.


Ann Bird has worked as a senior journalist during a career spanning national and international newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

While on The Daily Express she launched the newspaper’s Health section. Then, from her role as Health Editor, she moved up to become Executive Features Editor, responsible for six sections of the newspaper.

As well as running her own communications consultancy, she has lectured on journalism for one of Europe's largest media training centres and gives regular talks to businesses on dealing with the Press and how to maximise positive coverage in the media.

As a journalist her work has appeared in many publications and websites, including The Daily Mirror, The Sun, The Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Guardian, FT and in magazines, such as GP and MedEconomics.

In her role as a media and crisis simulation trainer she has helped coach staff both in the UK and abroad at many organisations, including pharmaceutical companies, government departments, national retailers, charities and the NHS.

Future events of interest:

Masterclass: Root Cause Analysis for Beginners
Thursday 10 September 2015 
Hallam Conference Centre, London

Reducing & Monitoring Avoidable Hospital Deaths attributable to problems in care
Thursday 8 October 2015 
Hallam Conference Centre, London

Leading your Organisation to Zero-Harm
Thursday 22 October 2015 
Manchester Conference Centre, Manchester

Root Cause Analysis: 2 Day Intensive Training Course
Wednesday 4 November 2015 — Thursday 5 November 
Cavendish Conference Centre, London

Leading your Organisation to Zero-Harm
Thursday 10 December 2015 
Hallam Conference Centre, London

Download: Ann Bird full presentation

8 July 2015


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