PUBLIC SECT0R: NHS breast cancer body looks for agency

The NHS National Breast Cancer Screening Office is on the hunt for PR agency support.

The office is looking for an agency to handle its £150,000-a-year account, offering a press office service and supporting public affairs, publishing and website development.

Also part of the brief is offering crisis comms advice, particularly to local NHS staff dealing with negative publicity surrounding screening.

According to the office's national co-ordinator Julietta Patnick, PR support is vital at local level to maintain public confidence when services attract negative stories. But, 'if the national media get involved that is something we will handle directly', she added.

Last year one such crisis was a damning Commission for Health Improvement inquiry into Hammersmith Hospital Trust, one of the country's biggest screening services.

The inquiry found that one women died and ten others suffered treatment delays due partly to confusion in procedure.

The national office also deals with screening for cervical, bowel and prostate cancer. A bowel cancer screening programme is currently being piloted in the Midlands and may be rolled out nationwide.

The current PR contract is held by four-year incumbent Citigate Communications, which reports to Patnick. The national office is based at the South Yorkshire Strategic Health Authority headquarters in Sheffield.

Patnick added that projects include PR for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which takes place every October. Celebrities involved in last year's event included GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips.

Another development that may involve PR support is the possible introduction of a new technology, called liquid-based cytology, in detecting cervical cancer.

The deadline for interested agencies to handle the three-year PR contract, which may be extended, is 21 January.

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