Let’s change the tone

How long can we be angry? Is it just me or does anyone increasingly pick up the paper and cannot believe the non-partisan, agenda-based drivel on the front page? The tragedy surrounding the victims of Victorina Chua in the last few weeks has created a predictable torrent of media-based attention. Is that attention on the rigours of qualification checking? On the staffing shortage of nurses in this country? On the fact that nursing has become increasingly ill-paid, increasingly harder work and increasingly despised? No, it is, of course, focused entirely on the fact that Victorina Chua is Filipino.

First off, let me just say I work daily with nursing staff looking after some of the sickest patients in the hospital- and they are nearly universally brilliant, dedicated, caring professionals. And yes, while you were wondering, a good proportion in the hospitals I have worked in are Filipino. For the record, these nurses in my experience are nearly always the best in the hospital. But that is meaningless.

For some comparison- look to the Daily Mail reporting of Andrew Hutchinson, convicted of raping and spying on unconscious patients at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford earlier this year. He was reported as “29, nurse” or even ‘male-nurse’. Nowhere was it mentioned ‘white nurse’, ‘Caucasian Nurse’, ‘British Nurse’, and nowhere to be found was the headline ‘The NHS is STILL hiring British/male nurses?!’, as there is sadly, in today’s copy of the Daily Mail in regards to Filipino nurses. And did anyone ever see a headline that read “Harold Shipman, white, qualified doctor?”.

But is anyone really surprised? All of us underestimate the effect that these newspapers have on our own thoughts and opinions. There’s an interesting cognitive effect called ‘anchoring’- it is well documented and very easy to prove with simple numbers. Put in simple terms- if I asked one hundred people to estimate the height of my house – I would most likely get a range of numbers centred around the true value (e.g. some people would be way under or over, but most people would approximate roughly the right height). BUT, if I asked the same one hundred people two questions: the first – ‘do you think this house is over or under 100 metres tall?’ And then: ‘How tall do you think this house is?’ – most people would vastly overestimate the height of the house, by 50-60% greater than the average if I hadn’t mentioned the value of 100 meters question. You can repeat this with the question “Do you think this house is over or under 2 metres?” and get an underestimate of the same proportion. Despite knowing how absurd a house 100m tall is, this information still drastically alters their estimation, and participants always avidly deny this.*

Now take this information in mind when analysing thoughts and attitudes towards the NHS. If you read on the front page of the Daily Mail how ‘foreign’ nurses are killing patients, and ‘Filipino’ nurses are STILL being hired- you, as a rational human being, will know that this applies to a single, unqualified criminal, and has no bearing on the vast, qualified, workforce of nurses from outside the EU that are the utter bedrock of the day-to-day NHS. But actually, when this information keeps getting re-presented to you, apparently supported by ‘NHS Doctors’ such as Max Pemberton, the ‘anchoring’ effect is very real. The next time you encounter a ‘foreign’ nurse, maybe when you or a family member are admitted to hospital, and everyone is very scared and anxious, you will find you have already pre-judged that nurse’s ability, second-guessed their intentions and competence, and you will no doubt, probably not on purpose, be rude to them because of it. And that, I’m sorry to say, IS racist.

But that’s not the point, and that’s not the argument. Something terrible happened- yes, and the victims of the criminal Victorina Chua and their family’s deserve our utmost sympathy, and our utmost ability to prevent unqualified, unsupervised professionals working in the NHS. But, when emotive, horrifying things happen, the ‘anchoring’ effect is all the greater. And you have to recognise that newspapers such as the Daily Mail twist these events to pander to a certain world-view, that propagates itself through it’s readership, which reassure themselves their world-view is correct by what they read in the papers.

So let’s change the tone. This is the truth: the newspapers do not report events to the public, they sell events to the public. And because of this, every newspaper has to add their ‘take’ on it, one that will appeal to their readership, so they can sell newspapers. It’s infantile, in the 21st century, to take everything you read in the newspaper at face-value, and most of it is not worth reading at all. Here is this event reported factually;

“Victorina Chua, 49 years old, is convicted of murder by means of injecting insulin into patients while posing as a nurse at Stepping-Hill hospital, resulting in at least two fatalities.”

And similarly the actual issues raised:

“This raises the issue of qualification-checking in NHS hospitals. This also raises the issue of clinical supervision in NHS hospitals.”**

And that, boring as it is, is it. But the world needs more sanity, it needs more boring. People are safer, happier, and more content when they are not constantly battered by fear-mongering bulls**t. But as long as you are buying the newspaper, or even clicking the links***, money is rolling in, and this drivel is floating out. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it buys fear by the bucket-load. So let’s change the tone; re-write every article you read, with just the facts, and see how different your world-view is thereafter.



*If you are interested please read the fascinating “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman

** I will call my new, no-frills, objective news reporting newspaper simply ‘Things That’ve Happened- Daily”.

***Which is why you shouldn’t share social media links to articles you are criticising- it merely increases the hit-count for their website and increases the revenue.