Since yesterday evening medical professionals have been tweeting their concerns about the health service under the hashtag #PublicDuty.
Most adopt a particular pattern:
“As a (job) with (number) years NHS experience, it’s my #PublicDuty to inform you that the Tories are dismantling and privatising the NHS”
In fact, that template above was set out by the National Health Action Party (NHA), following a similar, enormously successful tweet by consultant oncologist and NHA candidate Clive Peedell.
So the tweets are coordinated and have their roots in a political party. But they are nonetheless compelling – and newsworthy – because most public sector workers are prevented from ‘going public’ with concerns over their jobs.
Many have employment contracts which forbid them from ‘bringing their employer into disrepute’, and those that don’t most likely are working under social media policies which state they cannot express an opinion on the health service while identifying themselves as an employee.
So for midwives, cancer specialists, physiotherapists, accountants, economists, consultants, doctors and nurses (see below) to add their voices, publicly, is notable. It is, in fact, a very modern (micro) form of whistleblowing.
Whistleblowing is, of course, not always a politically neutral act. Many whistleblowers are politically, or ideologically, motivated. That does not mean that we disregard what they are saying.
And it can also be a dangerous act. So stating in concert with others that you are concerned for the NHS’s future is one way to reduce that danger.
But it does not remove that danger.
For that reason journalists should be paying more attention to the #PublicDuty hashtag than they have done. These people are brave to draw attention to themselves. I do not doubt that some will face repercussions.
Their claims should be treated like any source’s – investigated further, and reported responsibly. But they should not be ignored.
#PublicDuty is mass whistleblowing. And it is a political campaign. It’s up to reporters to separate the second-hand propaganda from first-hand experience: those who genuinely can say “This is not working”. So who is doing that?