I am Shaun Lintern, Health Correspondent at The Independent – one of the top online publications in the UK and the US. I was honoured with the Health Journalist of the Year award at this year’s National Press Awards, in part because of my scoop on the largest maternity scandal in the history of the NHS in Britain – which had been affecting women and children for nearly 40 years.

Obviously, 2020 has largely been about covering coronavirus. This has included covering daily news events as they’ve happened, as well as analysis and longer features. Recently I have been looking at whether the UK really is on the brink of a second wave of the pandemic, as well as how well prepared our hospitals are to cope with this coming winter.

In this Reddit AMA, I hope to answer your questions about coronavirus, how the pandemic is being handled around the world, and the potential for a vaccine.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/9ueywweiews51.jpg

Comments: 187 • Responses: 9  • Date: 

comeongetoff99962 karma

How damaging do you feel the misinformation and inconsistent messaging from central government in the UK has been to our efforts to minimise its impact?

theindependentonline84 karma

Hi, the fact you are asking the question in a sense gives an indication of the problem. Whatever your political leaning I think people do feel confused and unsure what the rules are around coronavirus at the moment and that can't be a good thing. Ultimately in a pandemic sitiation its vital the public have clear instructions and crucially understand why they are being asked to do this. On face masks for example most people understand the science and reasoning - but I dont think that is true for the 10pm curfew. Getting the messaging right is important because government scientists have said themselves they fear the risk of fatigue among the public and people getting tired of the restriction. If we see less compliance with the rules then the virus will make hay out of that. So in short the inconsistent messaging is a problem.

comeongetoff99931 karma

Second question - to what extent do you feel that journalists should hold decision makers to account where there is potential that poorly made decisions have had a damaging effect on the safety of the public?

theindependentonline30 karma

Thanks for this question - I have been a journalist for 20 years now almost and I absolutely believe in good honest public interest journalism that holds those in power to account. By that I dont mean throwing mud for the sake of it but doing proper journalism that interrogates decisions made and the reasons why. I think we have seen some great examples of journalists calling into question actions by government and questioning the policies as they emerge. Journalists have an important role in any crisis but most especially in this sort of global health emergency. Wherever I have evidence of poor decisions putting at risk the safety of the public I would not hesitate to call that out and expose it.

austinberries17 karma

Government guidelines have become more about balancing the risk of contracting the virus against the countries economic abilities. Do you feel that the cost of a human life is taken into account and what number would you say the governments of the world have put on a human life?

An example of this is that even if Ireland moves to phase 5 of lockdown, all nonessential workers are required to WFH, however, kids and students are required to come to class full time.

theindependentonline43 karma

Not sure I can answer that on the number given to a human life. But what I will say is that being in government is about being the ones to make this decision. It is absolutely right for government to consider the economy as well as public health. But I am not sure they are opposed to each other as being suggested. For example SAGE has made clear an earlier quicker lockdown will be less economically damaging than a later lockdown which will have to last for so much longer. These issues are really complex - yes the virus is a killer but so too is a recession either via mental health and suicide as well as declining health standards and later longer term health issues. I for one am glad I am not making the decisions

Yeti-lover12 karma

When does it look like a vaccine will be ready? Given the new information that people can be reinfected, will a vaccine even be effective?

theindependentonline29 karma

This is THE question scientists and government leaders are preoccupied with. As it stands right now the activity to develop a vaccine is proceeding incedibly quickly all around the world. Just last night the Oxford vaccine developers were saying there was a possibility the rising cases in the UK might help them get across the line in their latest testing by the end of the year. Elsewhere in the US there are some really interesting trials being carried out. So in answer to your question it looks possible we could have a vaccine by the end of 2020 - more likely that it is fully finalised early in 2020. But the issue then becomes about getting enough manufactured and distributed to vaccinate enough people. That will take time and be a logistical nightmare. Some suggestions are it could take the first half of 2021 if not longer to ensure enough people are protected and its likely the vaccine will be prioritised to at risk groups first. Will it work? Frankly we just dont know yet. The science is still emerging. The reinfection stories are a concern but we can't say for certain just yet. A lot of the trials are showing the vaccines do generate an immune response but we will have to wait and see how long that lasts

Yeti-lover5 karma

Thanks, I have a feeling it will be a yearly thing like the influenza vaccine because of the mutations and the ability to be reinfected. If only high-risk groups get vaccinations first that would still make everything so much better. They are the ones that are dying and having the most serious complications.

theindependentonline18 karma

Yes I agree and of course coronavirus is a very different virus to flu. Even a yearly vaccine would be better than our current situation

saphnabylni9 karma

Hope you don't mind if I ask a non-covid question. How did you find moving from HSJ to the Independent? What are the main differences you've noticed in working for 'mainstream' rather than specialist press?

theindependentonline21 karma

That is an interesting question...I loved working for the HSJ because you had the space and time to think and do good quality investigative journalism. There was no demand to re-write press released etc and no demand from the editor to write a certain line. Really pure journalism. I have to say that since joining The Independent I have found the news editors here to be as interested in investigative journalism and getting to the heart of the story and I have been allowed time to investigate and dig into something. Obviously there are pressures to report the daily news and that can be a source of tension for me because there is just so much going on and having to make those choices about what to cover is a challenge. The other big difference is that the HSJ audience had an innate knowlegde about the NHS whereas a mainstream audience may not and I have to consider that in how I write and describe things. I had hoped for a quiet first year - not sure that worked out!!!

neil_petark5 karma

Hi Shaun, just wondering if you think scrutiny is any more difficult since the 2012 Act (I'm thinking particularly of the way that NHS England and Improvement operates) and the removal of so many functions from DHSC, or is it just a new form of the same old problem?

theindependentonline11 karma

It is a little of the same old problem for sure in that the NHS and government have never been as transparent and open as they should be - bearing in mind they are more so than most healthcare systems in the world and certainly more so than the private healthcare system. That said I think the 2012 act did a huge amount of damage and created a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy which the NHS has been trying to sort out ever since. It was legislation primarily based on the ideology of Andrew Lansely and ignorant of much of the reality within which things work. NHS England is concentrating power more and more and that can be both good for the NHS and bad - some people in the organisation need to realise they cannot control everything and by trying to they actually stifle much of the good work going on. I have found NHS E to be unhelpful from a media perspective - thankfully I am fortunate not to be reliant on them for my journalism but it is a shame when local organisations want to talk to you and share what they are doing but are told by someone centrally they can't. I encourage them to do it 'off the record' and most do. Same goes for DHSC really. Both organisations are full of people trying to do a good job - but rarely are they allowed to shine or share what they are doing.

jagerjagerjager2 karma

Hi Shaun, thanks for all your work over the years. I remember reading your reporting for the junior doctor contract strike. A few years later, what do you think are the long-lasting impacts of the contract imposition? Jeremy Hunt sacrificed a lot of goodwill to get it through, was it worth it?

theindependentonline10 karma

That was a truly damaging affair and I think even Jeremy Hunt would admit that. Its interesting given many of the warnings by junior doctors at the time that few of them have actually come to pass and the hated contract was not as bad as some of them claimed. On the flip side the governemnt rhetoric was really damaging and created a real split for junior doctors and the NHS and govt. I think it will take years to repair that. And in the same sense that the contract was not as bad as doctors warned, it was not the panacea for making the NHS safer that the govt claimed at the time either. The contract that probably needed the most attention was that of the consultants but as you say, by the end of the war, the political capital spent meant there was and still is, little desire to go down that road. Interestingly some doctors have since said some of the measures in the contract such as a limit on hours, the ability to exception report shifts etc has been helpful. The review recently did not lead to wholesale changes so on balance it probably is working out ok. But I'd be keen to hear from people on that point.

TalkingBackAgain1 karma

Hello Shaun, what is a realistic time line for a working vaccine against Covid-19?

theindependentonline4 karma

I have answered a similar question earlier so have a look for more detail but in short possibly the end of this year but more likely spring time but it will take longer to get it out to everyone.