Towards the end of 2012 I was invited to take up the post of Scottish Workforce Officer for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. It seemed an excellent opportunity – workforce issues have been a major problem in paediatric departments across Scotland, particularly so in Dumfries. I was assured that my responsibilities would be straight forward with a few committees to attend and two reports to write each year.
Within 2 weeks of taking up the post however, things became less straight forward. The media had taken an interest in paediatric staffing problems within Lothian and the College were approached by The Herald for an interview. Somebody thought the new Workforce Officer would be the ideal interviewee. My first response was panic. I had no media experience and was very new to the College role but this was a major opportunity. In particular, I had the chance to highlight a major problem affecting paediatrics across Scotland. I needed to make the most of this so I set about getting prepared.
Firstly I clarified what was expected of me from the College since I would be representing them. Thankfully they have lots of media experience and had a variety of position statements and national data available for me to study over the next few days. I also spoke directly with the Chair of the Scottish Committee, ensuring I understood the views of the College within Scotland. Knowing key facts and figures as well as understanding the College position would be critical.
I also presumed (correctly) that any journalist would be interested in my views on the workforce situation from our local perspective. Whilst I was happy to represent the College I was anxious to ensure that my employer had no reservations about me being interviewed. A discussion with the Medical Director reassured me that he was comfortable with the proposed interview.
The interview itself was much easier than I expected. I had done my homework, knew my facts and was able to stick to the relevant subjects. I realised early during the interview that it was important to distinguish between facts and opinions. More importantly, I realised the importance of clarifying which statements could be used as direct quotes – I wanted to be particularly sure I didn’t say anything that could be misunderstood.
The worst part of the whole experience was waiting for publication. Before running the story the newspaper wanted the results of a freedom of information request, giving exact data on the national staffing situation. This would take a fortnight and I spent that time worrying how my comments would be reported.
The day before publication I received a phone call from the picture editor who urgently needed a photo of me for the article. This, I hadn’t prepared for, but smart phones these days are incredible and I emailed in a hastily taken photo (my daughter is very proud that she’s now a published photographer!)
In fact, the article was very balanced and my comments were accurately reported. The journalist had researched the story well and included an excellent analysis of the situation taken from my comments and those of several other clinicians. I did wonder if the story would be picked up by other media and indeed it was – I was subsequently interviewed by the Times and the local newspapers. The political follow up was interesting with the issue being debated in Scottish Parliamentary questions.
Our staffing crisis hasn’t got any better yet but at least people are now talking about the issue.
The front page article can be found here:
Dr Andrew Eccleston is a Consultant Paediatrician at Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary
Next week Hazel Borland @HazelNMAHPDir will discuss ‘Leadership & Challenges for the future”