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by Caitlin Wilkinson 22nd June, 2018
3 min read

The NHS’s £20bn birthday present: who won the social media battle?

On Sunday, Theresa May announced the Government’s intention to increase the NHS England budget by an average of 3.4% annually ahead of the NHS’s 70th birthday – a £20 billion increase in real terms spending by 2023.

The Prime Minster outlined that increased funding will come from as yet unspecified tax increases, alongside a “Brexit dividend” from the money Britain will no longer spend on EU membership.

Monday’s headlines were almost universally sceptical, with the Times identifying a “black hole” in the funding plans, the Telegraph accusing the Government of planning “stealth taxes”, and the Metro running with “Magic Money Theresa” –  a play on the PM’s insistence to Corbyn that there was “no magic money tree.”

But outside of the press and Westminster bubble, how did the announcement actually play out?

Big Data Analysis of Social Media

GK Strategy analysed over 268k posts on social media (including Twitter, blogs, review sites and forums) to establish how the public reacted to the Prime Minister’s NHS birthday present.  We looked at any posts which mentioned the term ‘NHS’ from 14th– 20th June, the vast majority of which (98%) were posted on Twitter.

The Prime Minister’s announcement evidently got people talking –  with post volume peaking at over 76,000 on Sunday 17thJune, a 300% increase compared with two days before.

NHS-blog-photo-1

Source: Crimson Hexagon

However, that is not to say that the Government spin operation won the day. Our analysis reveals that the announcement corresponds with a significant spike in negative sentiment on social media, which peaked at over 32k negative posts on Sunday 17th June alone (up from an average of just 7k earlier that week.)  Though the most vocal are by no means always representative of the population, it seems Theresa May’s funding settlement was no more popular with social media users than with the press.

NHS-blog-photo-2

Source: Crimson Hexagon

Hot Topics

We also examined the most used hashtags, most popular tweets and frequently mentioned users to establish what was driving the debate, and why negative sentiment had increased.

Unsurprisingly, Brexit was the third most used hashtag, and was mentioned in over 10k tweets. Theresa May’s interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday 17th June, in which she outlined her funding plans, including the “Brexit dividend” alongside Emily Thornberry, provoked over 12k tweets on the topic.

Interestingly, the Marr interview generated around twice as many tweets as PMQ’s later in the week, which was mentioned just 6k times. This drop off in interest and coverage highlights the importance of getting in early to shape the debate and the continued importance of some of the main political media platforms, even in our social media age. By the time Jeremy Corbyn went head to head with Theresa May on the issue of NHS funding, the audience had halved.

Source: Crimson Hexagon

The Key Influencers

Looking at the most mentioned users on Twitter regarding the NHS reveals how Theresa May and the Conservative party dominated the debate.

The top 3 most mentioned users were @TheresaMay (11k), @Conservatives (3.6k), and @JeremyHunt (3.5k), with leader of the opposition @JeremyCorbyn trailing in 5th with just over 2k mentions.

This suggests that despite the negative sentiment surrounding Theresa May’s funding announcement, Labour failed to capitalise on this and have missed an opportunity to push forward an alternative plan for the NHS, an issue they have traditionally been strong on.

Source: Crimson Hexagon

However, the Conservatives’ attempt to get social media using their hastag, #LongTermNHSPlan, was less succesful – with just over 1.6k mentions, or just 0.4% of all tweets mentioning the NHS this week.

With the debate ongoing, the reaction this week on social media suggests the Governnment  has a long way to go towards convincing British voters that these funding increases will deliver the change to the NHS that voters agree it needs, but that Labour also failed to land any killer blows on territory it has historically been unchallenged on.

We will see how this develops when the detail of how the increased spending will be funded over the coming months, but from an initial glance the government will be pretty pleased with their week.

For more information on how GK Strategy can harness the power of big data and help your business understand your audience better, contact caitlin@gkstrategy.com

See more articles by Caitlin Wilkinson