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NHS ‘could help fund local reporters’ in LDR-style scheme for health coverage

Joe MitchellA new plan that could lead to the NHS helping to fund local reporters to cover health has been proposed by a public interest journalism body.

The Public Interest News Foundation wants to see a local democracy reporter-style scheme to fund a new nationwide team of health correspondents following discussions with NHS England, as well as local and national news publishers.

The service would be partly funded by the NHS, but other organisations including local authorities, charities, community groups and media owners could “collectively chip in to make it happen”.

The PINF will now produce a detailed plan in a bid to get the project off the ground.

The idea of such a scheme being launched to cover health trusts was previously proposed by regional publishers in a joint submission to the Cairncross Review into the future of journalism in 2019.

The idea was again raised by current Lancashire Post editor Vanessa Sims the following year, while she was serving as Newsquest Cumbria group editor.

PINF  deputy director Joe Mitchell, pictured, wrote in a blog that the idea had come about after an NHS communications worker asked at the meeting: “Whatever happened to health correspondents?’”

Joe said: “The question got us thinking about how the BBC now funds a Local Democracy Reporting Service, with around 150 ‘local democracy reporters’ in newsrooms across the UK. The BBC pays for them, but they’re hosted by news titles.

“[Editor] Rhiannon Davies at Greater Govanhill suggested that we could borrow that concept: what would a local health reporter look like? Or better still, a community health reporter?

“We took this community health reporter idea as a jumping-off point for an in-person discussion. With the help of NHS England, we put together a workshop in Bristol in late March, with a range of local and national journalists and news publishers, NHS staffers, comms people and charity representatives.

“In terms of funding, the group seemed strongly in agreement that the role should not be wholly funded by the NHS, but there was a sense that a range of institutional public actors (local authorities, NHS actors) could join with others (charities, communities, media owners) to collectively chip in to make it happen.

“PINF’s next step is to bring this all together into a proposal or vision document that we can use to approach potential funders of such a role. We’ll aim to keep everyone updated.”

Among other duties, it has been suggested reporters employed under such a scheme would be expected to produce investigative and news content, work across a range of media, attend NHS meetings, interview the service’s decision-makers and to tell patients’ stories.

HTFP has approached NHS England for a comment on PINF’s proposals.