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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 May 12; 334(7601): 1008.
PMCID: PMC1867916
In and Out of Hospital

Going public

James Owen Drife, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology Leeds

A television interview involves some heart searching. More so now than when I was a college spokesman. In that role you could reassure your colleagues (and yourself) that you were driven by duty. You received briefings and a line to take, and you could usually confine yourself to facts.

But when you're on your own, the phone call takes you by surprise. The questions are less research, more audition. “Are Britain's maternity services getting worse?” “Well, yes and no,” you reply, “or to put it another way, no and yes.” Finally the voice asks: “Would you be willing to talk to us?”

Would you? Do you trust the person behind the voice? She sounds concerned and well informed and her programme has a good reputation. The real question is, how deep is your despair? Services across the country are now controlled by national politicians who no longer listen to practising doctors. Let's go for it.

“We're in your area on Saturday,” says the voice, “but in the morning we're interviewing a real person.” Shared irony is a good sign. I ask if the interview will be over in time for me to get to the opera. The reply is not entirely reassuring.

Our managers, relaxed and helpful, say it's okay to film in the hospital. On Saturday afternoon, men with drills begin long awaited repairs to the lift. I feel a pang of conscience asking them to stop. The television crew decide my untidy bookshelves make a good background. “We like random,” says the cameraman, removing my wall clock.

The interviewer already knows all the facts and figures. What she wants are opinions, succinctly expressed. Professors don't do succinct. She nudges me to be more outspoken, but I say I can't bring myself to frighten women viewers. Gently, she points out that this may be the only way to change things. We're both thinking the same: what a way to run a health service.

A final take in the ward. Beds are screened off, but the midwife and I sign a release allowing our images to be distributed “throughout the universe.” Big in Ursa Minor, maybe. Will any of this be used? Will it make a difference? I suspect not. Anyway, I made it to the opera. The heroine died but, thank goodness, she wasn't pregnant.

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