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During crises (major events characterised by uncertainty, urgency and threat), society must make sense of rapidly unfolding events. This happens mainly through narrativising - depicting a setting, characters and a meaningful sequence of events and actions unfolding over time. In the early months of the pandemic, UK general practice shifted from face-to-face consultations to a remote-by-default model (telephone, video or e-consultation). This shift was initially widely accepted by press and public, but support waned after a politician declared that the change would be permanent. We invoke Burke's dramatistic pentad of act, scene, agent, agency and purpose to theorise findings from a detailed analysis of media coverage of the remote-by-default policy and reactions to it. We consider the 12 weeks from March to June 2020 (first lockdown, when remote-by-default services had just been introduced) and 1 week from late July 2020 (following the ministerial announcement). The initial introduction of remote consulting had strong narrative coherence in which all parts of the pentad were balanced: scene (a deadly virus threatening the country) aligned with act (lockdown, including avoiding face-to-face appointments unless essential), agents (the National Health Service and digital technology as heroic macro-actors), agency (general practitioners € deployed') and purpose (to control the pandemic). The later period, however, was characterised by a mismatch between scene (a country emerging from lockdown and resuming normal life), act (imposition of the remote model), agent (a politician known for his enthusiasm for technology), agency (top-down directive) and purpose (modernisation). Whereas media narratives in the first period aligned with the genre of heroic adventure (suggesting a worthy battle, bravely fought), those of the second had characteristics of farce (something both comic and grotesque). We conclude that close reading of media narratives may surface potential misalignments between policy decisions and the context in which they must be implemented.

Original publication




Journal article


Medical Humanities

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