Informing debate or fuelling dispute? Media communication of reconfiguration in Scotland’s rural maternity care

Elizabeth Thomson, Jane Farmer, Janet Stephen Tucker, Helen Bryers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Public reaction to the UK's ongoing health sector reform often results in dilution of policy-makers' goals. Public participation in health service decision-making is advocated in policy, but precisely how to do it and what role public opinion should have in formulating reform strategy is ambiguously described. Public opinion is formed through many influences, including media reporting. This paper examines how reconfiguration at a rural maternity unit at Caithness General Hospital in Wick, Scotland, was communicated in national and local media and considers potential implications of media communication on public participation in policy decision-making. Content analysis of arguments for and against change revealed a high level of reporting of commentators against change in regional newspapers. Qualitative analysis identified emergent themes about how maternity service reconfiguration was portrayed. These included framing opposition between management and local people, and change drivers receiving superficial coverage. Findings suggest that media portrayal of the public role in change may promote an adversarial rather than a participative stance. More finely tuned understanding of the relationship between the reporting of change and public reaction should be attained as this could affect how planned social policy evolves into actual practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)789-812
Number of pages24
JournalSocial Policy & Administration
Issue number7
Early online date30 Oct 2008
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008


  • Health service reform
  • Rural health care
  • Organizational change
  • Newspapers
  • Media analysis
  • health-service
  • participation
  • consultation
  • power
  • cure


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