AAN2017: BBC could be used to advertise……health

The impact of the BBC Panorama television programme on public awareness of
autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) for patients with multiple

Azza Ismail, Simon Hickman, David Paling, Julie Phelan, Jane Havercroft, Simon Webster, Helena Jidborg
Alexander, John Snowden, Basil Sharrack 

To study the impact of the BBC Panorama programme on public awareness of AHSCT for patients with multiple
On the 18th January 2016, the BBC aired the Panorama television programme “Can you stop my MS” which
covered the use of autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) for multiple sclerosis (MS).
We retrospectively analysed the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals (STH), MS Trust and MS Society dedicated website
page views, email enquiries, telephone calls and posts on Twitter and Facebook. 

2.4 million people in the UK watched the programme live, and it’s media coverage reached 180 million worldwide.
Page views of the STH, MS Society and MS Trust websites peaked at 20000, 27686 and 7540 hits respectively
on the day the programme was aired. Within six weeks from broadcasting, STH had received over 400 AHSCT
email enquiries of which 64% were from individuals outside the UK and 20% were from people with other
neurological conditions. The MS Society helpline received 202 calls (200% more than their mean calls/day) and
51 emails (200% and 500% more than heir mean calls and emails /day respectively) on the day following the

On the week the programme was aired, AHSCT enquiries received by the MS Trust peaked at 46% (compared
with a usual of 2-18% of all enquiries they receive). On the day of the broadcast, the most popular Facebook post
on AHSCT for MS was seen by 25469 people, the MS Trust live tweets had 56444 impressions generating 434
click throughs to the website and the hashtag #MS Panorama became the 4th most popular hashtag in the UK. 
The BBC Panorama TV programme was very successful in increasing public awareness about AHSCT for
MS. This strategy could be a used to raise public awareness about novel treatments for a variety of medical

Television is indeed a method of raising awareness and this study shows that there was a vast amount of interest, generated by TV programme. Therefore it is critical that it is balanced. Unfortunately balance is boring and this stuff is going to get cut.

Panorama is generaly considered to be investigative journalism and so the reasons why it reported a health story was interesting  and surprising. They didn’t play the card of people not accessing drug because the NHS is so stretched and so lacked a political angle and the story lacked balance and lacked science. If you can get the media to do a programme and can control how it is done then it is a powerful media. 

However, this is not always the case. We approached the media to follow a story, but they wanted a “Bad Pharma” angle and so we declined.

I suspect we will get a story on HSCT as one of the BBC journalists had the procedure done at Christmas. Maybe we can get a program, story made on one or more of our trials. I know some journalists (pwMS) have been involved.

In the light of the Fake news about the MS caused this week, I was asked where I would get my information from and I am sad to say I would not get it from the BBC. Which makes you concerned about the other things, we all know news media like to exaggerate the “body count” and they do this with “cures” too. I am sure they think they are being impartial.

The reports I have been involved with are invariable over exaggerated or wrong or they put a spin on things you would not do.

The reason I started blogging was the day the BBC said I was working with aborted foetuses. I got a call from the Netherlands by someone saying they would like to be in my trial. It was a mouse project. The BBC guy was fed bad news from the media reports sent on the wire, and got an award for media of the year. I spent 2 days firefighting to get the story pulled from the media. I did get an apology from the Beeb.

We had the story of the wonderdrug from Alzheimers and MS the week before.

The problem is finding a reputable source you can believe. Of course I say you can come here, but  we can all be manuipulated and we all have our biases. However if it sounds sensational it probably is. 

I would generally say the MS Societies/Charities are a place to go, they can get stories checked out. But remember they can be wrong too, so try a number of them, if its a big story it will travel round the MS world.

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  • You are being naive. This research and abstract is being driven by the Sheffield group's need to produce an impact statement for the next REF.

    • And I've just given them an altmetric even more brilliant:-0.
      Wonder how it went down in Boston.

      However the important point is about getting your medical news from the TV. Maybe they could poll Neurologist at Liverpool on who thought it was a well-balanced piece of Journalism and should you get your info from pop media?



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