Quin Parker

Blogs (short for weblogs) are nothing more than webpages regularly updated in date order. But for such a simple thing, they’ve had a powerful and often hidden impact on the way people hear news.

Many blogs are highly personal, others political, and a few more concentrate only one on subject for a specialist audience. Some offer insights into worlds few journalists would consider entering – the most pertinent example being ‘Salam Pax’, an Iraqi blogger who risked his life to write about his life pre- and post-Saddam Hussein.

Recently, another class of blog has appeared – the anonymous work blog. Employees in the fast-food industry, call centre workers, police officers and teachers are all writing about their experiences under the cover of hidden identity. Now, people in the NHS are starting to join in.

Talking work

"It gives me a chance to tell
people about the ‘real’ NHS, that ambulance work isn’t like Casualty"

— ‘Tom Reynolds’, EMT and author of Random Acts of Reality

Tom Reynolds (not his real name) runs a popular weblog called Random Acts of Reality, which is about his experiences as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in the London Ambulance Service. His tales are often funny but occasionally harrowing. “I realised that with the work that I do, I had a wealth of stories that I could tell, and that maybe some people would be interested in what happens in the ambulance service,” he told E-Health Insider. "I quite enjoy writing down the things that happen at work – whether it is a form of therapy for me, I can’t say – but I do get enjoyment from it."

There aren’t many blogs written by people in the NHS, which Reynolds finds surprising considering that the NHS employs the largest number of people in Europe. "I suspect that for many, the reason why they blog is much the same as mine. It gives me a chance to tell people about the ‘real’ NHS, that ambulance work isn’t like ‘Casualty’, and perhaps highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses."

"Also, by letting people know what I do, I get some gratitude, which is something that I seldom get at work. There might also be partly some subtle form of ‘whistle-blowing’."

Keeping quiet

Other blogs written by people in the NHS include the irreverent Doing Less Harm, written by ‘Dr Dre’, who works in the IT department of ‘Anytown NHS Trust’. His most recent topics include his trust’s Christmas quiz and the discounts he gets from working at the hospital. His name and place of work have been anonymised, along with the co-workers he refers to, such as the frequently mentioned ‘Very Annoying Colleague’.

It’s easy to see why Dr Dre has chosen not to broadcast his name. Writing a public diary about office politics and your personal opinions about your company can be hazardous. To be sacked from one’s job is because of something inappropriate written on a blog is known as being ‘dooced’, after the first blog (Dooce.com) whose author was sacked for writing about work. Other NHS bloggers, contacted by E-Health Insider, were unwilling to even have their pseudonyms mentioned for fear of reprisals.

Tom Reynolds also keeps his identity secret, but for different reasons: "I’m ‘semi-anonymous’ in that everyone at work who knows me personally knows that I blog – Tom Reynolds is a pseudonym – as do management and my friends outside work.  The main reason for remaining ‘anonymous’ is to help protect my patients confidentiality."

Useful tool

Quite apart from using the medium to sound off about one’s job or co-workers on the quiet, blogging could become very useful to the way NHS organisations distribute news and information. For instance, the Digital Libraries network blog, set up by the NHSIA in July 2003, encourages librarians across the UK to post information they feel may be useful to their colleagues, is updated regularly and is extremely successful. Another, unofficial attempt has been made to collect pertinent snippets on the ‘NHS eLibraries’ blog, which has been running since 2000.

“I believe that blogging within the NHS should be encouraged,” says Reynolds. “Blogging represents an added value to organisations. If there is a staff blogger then that organisations ‘brand’ is going to get linked to, and spoken about, more-so than a more traditional website.” Referring to the number of times that his blog has been covered in the press, Reynolds comments: "I haven’t seen the London Ambulance Service official website mentioned in the Guardian or the BBC website recently."

Businesses are slowly starting to embrace blogging, although companies that blog are mainly confined to the IT sector. Analysts at internet research firm Jupiter Research have their own weblogs, which are used to convey interesting information and tid-bits, as well as giving the company a more ‘human’ face. Other high-profile technology companies, like Google and Yahoo! are also running blogs. The difference between these and personal weblogs is the level of editorial control. Personal, anonymous blogs are very much ‘publish and be damned’. Business blogs require moderation and careful management.

Investment and communication

"Imagine NPfIT projects setting up a blog – comments from it could be used as suggestions from anyone involved in its implementation"

— ‘Tom Reynolds’

For Reynolds, blogging is an opportunity waiting to be picked up by the NHS, both for public and internal communications. "It would increase communication, boost morale and ultimately a half hour a day blogging would improve the way that people think about their job. At the end of the day a blog is just another form of content management.

"Imagine NPfIT projects setting up a blog – comments from it could be used as suggestions from anyone involved in its implementation. Which is easier, calling up a website and firing off an email, or posting a quick comment to a blog post? Put the blog on the system that you are installing, or send it as an RSS feed and invite people to submit suggestions or comment on problems. There would be a bigger feeling of community, and thus let people ‘invest’ in the IT project."

When it comes down to it, blogging is only another form of spreading information and knowledge. While it might be too much to hope that a personal, anonymous weblog written by NHS IT director Richard Granger might be somewhere online, the good example set by the Digital Libraries network can only lead to bigger things. And if you work in the NHS and feel you have a good story to tell, perhaps you should set a blog up too. Anonymously, of course.



Random Acts of Reality
Doing Less Harm
Digital Libraries Network
NHS eLibraries
Anonymous Work Blogs Homepage

Blogging tools

Blogger, owned by Google, is the tool that started it all. The service is quite comprehensive, and even allows those without their own webspace to blog for free. HTML knowledge is useful but not necessary. The main disadvantage of Blogger is that it isn’t completely customisable.

WordPress, Movable Type
These are flexible, popular blogging tools, but do require your own webspace and knowledge of PHP. WordPress is free, and Movable Type has a free but unsupported version for download.