Healthcare: Freshwater boss sets up research centre

The founder of Freshwater UK's healthcare practice has helped set up a university research centre that will focus on healthcare comms.

John Underwood, a former director of comms for the Labour Party, will take up the post of director of the Centre for Health Communication Research and Excellence at Buckinghamshire New University.

The centre is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK and will combine academic research into healthcare comms, short courses for health practitioners, and practical research and consultancy. Underwood said the centre had been established in response to new challenges in the NHS and the health sector. Much of the centre's work will involve NHS organisations and concerns raised by the Government's proposed reforms.

Earlier this year, the NHS Confederation said in a review that the Government's comms around the NHS reforms were 'adding to the risks of failure'.

'Effective communication is never more important than in times of great change,' said Underwood. 'One of the major challenges is how well the NHS and individuals within the organisation communicate effectively with patients, the public and, indeed, the pharmaceutical industry.'

The centre will open for business in September. The deputy director will be senior lecturer Bill Nichols, a marketing and PR specialist.

Underwood was Labour Party comms director from 1990 to 1991, succeeding Peter Mandelson. He is currently director at Freshwater Healthcare but also founded CCT, the company that held the contract to televise the proceedings of Parliament throughout most of the 1990s.

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