Skip to navigation Skip to content

Journalist praises ‘brave’ sources as she receives 2023 Sarah Hughes Trust Prize

The winner of a prize for journalism that exposes misleading health information has praised the doctors who were her sources when she was writing her award-winning articles.

Helen Puttick, a specialist reporter for The Times in Scotland, received the 2023 Sarah Hughes Trust Prize at a special event last week hosted by the History of Medicine Society of the Royal Society of Medicine, which jointly awards the prize with the Medical Journalists Association.

Her successful submission was published in the Scottish edition of The Times, across three articles. The first, in September 2022, ran under the headline 'Government information on NHS waiting times is grossly misleading' and challenged the Scottish government's claims on the NHS Inform website that people waited a median of 26 weeks for orthopaedic care. In fact, the figures were compiled from a three-month period and did not include those patients who had already been waiting for several months or years.

Accepting the prize at the Royal Society of Medicine, Helen Puttick said: “It can be quite difficult for doctors and other frontline health professionals to talk honestly about some of the problems the NHS is facing. There’s a huge pressure from employers and from politicians to paint quite a rosy picture.

“I’m lucky that some consultants in this case trusted me with this information and were brave enough to talk about their concerns and also share it on social media.

“If it wasn’t for them, there would not have been those stories and I would not have been here today.

“It’s perhaps the case that relationships between journalists and their sources are not celebrated enough, so I also thank the Sarah Hughes Trust and the Royal Society of Medicine for this award. It has given me enormous pleasure to be here this evening.”

On behalf of the judging panel, Richard Neate – a Trustee of the Sarah Hughes Trust - said: “Helen's series of articles was the judges’ unanimous winner. We felt that she fully met the brief of challenging misinformation and working collaboratively with the medical profession while doing so. Helen’s reports also had wider relevance and impact, highlighting the need to ensure official data is not presented in a distorted or misleading way. 

“In a strong field of submissions, Helen's stood out as an example of solid, grassroots news journalism representing the community, getting to the nub of a thorny issue, ensuring patients have access to accurate information and holding those in positions of power to account.”

The prize presentation came at the end of the third annual Sarah Hughes Lecture, which this year was given on Friday 1 December by Professor Nicholas Roe, Wardlaw Professor of English Literature, University of St Andrews on John Keats’ influence on both beauty and truth as applied to medicine and the humanities, particularly through the concept of Vitality, along with Sarah’s own contribution, through her reading and writings.

Sarah Hughes was a talented journalist who died from breast cancer on Easter Monday 2021 at the age of 48. Her family and friends crowdfunded to establish in her name a Trust, an annual lecture and prize, as well as internships in the Guardian.

See more RSM events

Skip to top