The programme included an interview with the matron of a London hospital, aimed at conveying a sense of what was happening in her hospital over the holiday period and how it was affecting staff. A listener complained that it referred to children with Covid in terms which were add odds with what was known about the general incidence and severity of Covid infections among the young, and which would have raised unnecessary concern among parents and potentially affected the ongoing debate about school closures.
The broadcast included the following comments by the interviewee (the substance of which was also posted on Twitter by the programme-makers): “We have children who are coming in. It was minimally affecting children in the first wave. We have a whole ward of children here and I know that some of my colleagues are in the same position where they have whole wards of children with Covid”.
The following day, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health issued a statement which said “As of now we are not seeing significant pressure from COVID-19 in paediatrics across the UK. As cases in the community rise there will be a small increase in the number of children we see with COVID-19, but the overwhelming majority of children and young people have no symptoms or very mild illness only”, and it emerged on subsequent enquiry that the interviewee had been speaking on the basis of very small numbers in her own hospital. The ECU noted that the programme-makers had not sought to establish the number of children involved or the severity of their symptoms; and, while appreciating the difficulty of obtaining a corroborating medical view on a public holiday, was concerned that remarks on a topic of such concern to parents, and which appeared at odds with what was generally understood to be the case, had been included in the broadcast without more scrutiny (and further circulated on Twitter). The programme published another tweet the following day which included the statement from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. The ECU thought this an appropriate step to have taken, but it did not address the inaccurate impression likely to have been given to listeners to the programme the day before.
The finding was reported to the Board of BBC News and discussed with the programme-makers concerned.