Behind the Scenes at Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Publication date: 07 December 2023
Last Thursday I got a call from our Press Office to say the producers at Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg wanted me to be part of their panel to react to what their main guest, the new Health Secretary, Victoria Atkins, had to say.
This was a first for me and definitely the most high-profile appearance as Chair of the College so far.
Preparation for Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
My press team and I went into ‘briefing mode’ with all the messages I wanted to get across about general practice, the NHS and winter pressures. But they also anticipated other topics that might come up – some where we might have something to say as a College (COP28 and the Covid Inquiry), others where we probably wouldn’t (the Elgin marbles and the Royal ‘race row’), and some particularly controversial, such as the current Middle East conflict.
After reading through the briefings and numerous phone calls with my press team, who were monitoring the news all day on Saturday and the front pages of Sunday’s papers when they were published on Saturday night, I felt ready. A bit nervous, but ready.
My day at New Broadcasting House
Arriving at New Broadcasting House, it was quite amusing to be ‘papped’ by a waiting photographer as I walked in – and then I was escorted to the green room before being whisked off for make-up.
In the green room, I met my fellow panellists – columnist Jane Moore and historian Lord Roberts – it was good to break the ice and get a sense of the topics they were there to speak about and the kinds of things they might say. Activist Ndileka Mandela – granddaughter of Nelson Mandela – would be joining us remotely from the COP28 summit.
I got a heads-up from Jane that she’d had recent difficulties accessing a GP and was able to speak to her about it – whilst her comments on the programme were still critical, I hope I was able to give her a different perspective.
We got briefed by the producer as to how the show would run, when they would come to us and the topics they would ask us about. At this stage it became clear, for example, that I wasn’t going to be asked about the situation in the Middle East, but they did ask whether I’d be willing to speak on the Royal situation, and I agreed because of my lived experience, although it was nice to have the option.
Laura Kuenssberg came in to introduce herself, and put us – especially me, as it was my first time on the show - at ease, and Victoria Atkins also popped her head around the door to say hello. As we walked into the studio, Victoria tried to speak to me further, but unfortunately, I was ushered away to my seat – although I did manage to say we should meet up, and she agreed, so I’ll definitely be holding her to that.
The programme itself actually felt like it lasted about two minutes, not a full hour, and Laura came to me several times: once before Victoria’s interview, which gave me the opportunity to say what I wanted to hear from her about shoring up general practice and the NHS this winter; once after, when I was able to push back on her comments linking doctors’ industrial action and NHS backlogs and make the case for why we need a national retention scheme; and then again at the end, when I was able to give my perspective on the Royal issue. I would have liked to publicly address some of Jane’s criticisms of general practice, but unfortunately there wasn’t time – but I was able to briefly interject when she said mental health was a social care issue.
Post-show discussion and analysis
Post-show, we were able to decompress a little and discuss the programme together over some breakfast. It’s fascinating how different people are on-screen and off – and I was able to ask Laura, whose grandfather Ekke was a founding member of the RCGP and a former College Chair and President, whether she would consider speaking at our Annual Conference next year. She seemed receptive, so fingers crossed and watch this space!
Overall, it was an exhilarating experience – three days of work and preparation by the College team went into an hour on screen, but I hope you feel the outcome was worth it. It was a real coup for the College to be asked to appear on such a high-profile programme, and I really hope they ask me back.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this behind-the-scenes glimpse of what goes into a making a high-profile media appearance. You can watch the full Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg episode.