Broadcasters are warning of an imminent crisis as the BBC and other news media struggle to cope with rising demand for NHS stories.
Services are at breaking point as broadcasters run out of hospitals to film.
One distressed BBC producer said: “I’ve never known anything like it. I used to find it easy to get into my local hospital to film end-of-bulletin feel-good stories for quiet news days. Now the place is heaving and I’ve just been told I’m going to have to come back tomorrow.”
Hospitals report that wards and emergency departments are overrun with film crews, which are being forced to wait for hours in draughty corridors or are simply being turned away.
Not being seen
Tearful journalists who had spent days waiting in hospital complained of “not being seen” after their items ended up on cutting room floors. “You wait all that time for a doctor to do a piece to camera only to find that he’s already appeared on Good Morning,” said one.
Broadcasters also face growing waits for suitable patients to become available. One told us: “It’s no longer enough to find someone whose hernia operation has been cancelled. We’re looking for life-threatening conditions – heart attacks, road traffic accidents, that sort of thing. You try getting someone to fill out a release form when they’re unconscious. I don’t think the public really understand the pressure we’re under.”
Never going home events
There is growing alarm too at the number of safety incidents being reported.
At one hospital rival film crews were involved in an emergency dash to the bedside of an elderly woman after a rumour that she held the national record for a delayed transfer of care.
None of the crews involved in the incident were seriously hurt, but media bosses fear that it’s only a matter of time before one of these near misses turns into a so-called never event. “It would be a tragedy if something awful happened and no one was there to film it,” said one producer.
Further cuts likely
There is little sign of the situation improving.
One news editor told us: “You can cope for a while, but this is just relentless. Day in and day out we’re seeing the same horribly boring things. If it’s bad for us, how much worse is it for viewers?”
With broadcasters working at 98% of capacity on NHS news, national media services could be unable to respond in the event of an emergency elsewhere, such as a big Brexit-related story featuring Diane Abbott or a travel ban on Methodists by Donald Trump.
A new threat appeared last week after reports that as many as 15% of A&E departments in England could be downgraded or even closed.
With less capacity in the system and with further to travel to an emergency department in future, broadcasters warn that urgent news services would inevitably suffer.
Five year forward viewers
Meanwhile bosses are desperately seeking to avert a disaster by creating credible “out of hospital” programmes.
“However many times we tell them there are more appropriate things they could be watching, viewers always turn to hospital dramas,” said a BBC spokesperson.
“Programmes featuring GPs were like watching paint dry”, she said, and broadcasters were struggling to find other popular formats.
A follow-up to the BBC’s documentary Hospital called Outpatients, which follows the fortunes of a hard working dermatology team, has been cancelled. Similarly, a rival ITV series set in a care home has run out of money and may now never be made.
Media editor: Julian Patterson