Covid-19, Doctors and the Media

Above: Petrarch 1304-1374

Have you ever noticed how the media show gross deference and respect to doctors when they are interviewed about Covid19?  It seems that no doctor is ever contradicted or challenged on his views. Yet, take a trip to Belfast High Court any day (before the start of the pandemic) to see doctors expressing diametrically opposite opinions based on exactly the same evidence. However, unlike media interviewers, barristers don’t let them get away with it.

Whatever happened to rigorous interviewing or balance in the press, radio and television when it comes to doctors and Covid 19?

For example, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised the government to space out the first and second dose of vaccine to get greater cover more quickly to more people, yet the local BMA representative, a Derry GP, not only disagreed but branded the decision to delay the second Pzifer Covid-19 vaccine as “appalling” and threatened legal action. Now research led by Public Health Scotland has found at four weeks after the first dose, hospital admissions were reduced by 85%, justifying the JCVI decision. It is estimated that thousands of lives have been saved by their decision. Why is the good doctor not ever challenged on his views on this and other issues?

A London based professor of Epidemiology alleged that Robin Swann and senior officials “are rarely seen in public and rarely give interviews”. He publicly called for Robin Swann’s resignation. Yet, according to the Department of Health NI press office (22.12.20), in the preceding two weeks Mr Swann had been interviewed at least 17 times by the media, including by Northern Ireland broadcasters, the Press Association, Sky News, and BBC Radio 4. Most people feel Robin Swann has done a good job under difficult circumstances. Again, why is the good professor not ever challenged on his views on this and other issues?

Surely it’s time for the media to stop treating doctors with kid gloves. Either rigorously hold them to account or at least give balance by having a dissenting opinion.  In medicine there is a saying that half of what we believe to be true today will be proven to be incorrect in the next five years and unfortunately we don’t know which half that is going to be. Thus strongly held views in medicine often deserve to be challenged and anyway, that is what most doctors who profess them accept and understand.

Reflecting on the Black Death of 1347, the Italian poet Petrarch complained that “neither ignorance nor even the plague itself is more hateful than the nonsense and tall tales of certain men who profess to know everything but in fact know nothing”.

Dr Geoffrey Todd

Consultant Respiratory Physician

NI Critical Care Beds and Coronavirus
Time to End Lockdown?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed