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The Times reporter wins 2023 Sarah Hughes Trust Prize

Royal Society of Medicine and Medical Journalists Association announce 2023 winner of ‘fake health news’ journalism prize

Helen Puttick, a specialist reporter for The Times in Scotland, has won the 2023 Sarah Hughes Trust Prize for journalism that exposes misleading health information.

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.

Helen Puttick
Helen Puttick, winner of the 2023 Sarah Hughes prize

Ms Puttick said: “I am honoured and delighted to have won the Sarah Hughes Trust Prize which remembers a female journalist who wrote on many subjects with such clarity and candour.

“The articles I submitted exposed the misleading nature of NHS waiting times figures on a new patient information website created by a team including the Scottish government. It was only possible because clinicians were willing to share their concerns. Being honest with patients and the public about the pressures on the NHS is surely crucial at this very difficult time for the service.

“Huge thanks to the Royal Society of Medicine and the Sarah Hughes Trust for supporting journalists and for this special award.”

In memory of the late Guardian and Observer journalist Sarah Hughes, the annual prize was set up to recognise exceptional journalism that exposes false or misleading information – so-called ‘fake news’ – in health or medicine.

Helen Puttick is the second winner of the prize, which was awarded for the first time in 2022.

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.”

Ms Puttick will receive her award at the Royal Society of Medicine on 1 December 2023. The prize presentation will come at the end of the annual Sarah Hughes Lecture, which this year will be given by Professor Nicholas Roe on John Keats’ influence on both beauty and truth as applied to medicine and the humanities.

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.

The Sarah Hughes Trust Prize is awarded in conjunction with the Royal Society of Medicine and the Medical Journalists Association.

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