Healthcare: At a Glance - Children's author gives Alzheimer's PR boost

THIS IS ABOUT TERRY PRATCHETT?

Yes, the author of the Discworld series of fantasy books has revealed that he has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. He also announced last week that he has donated £500,000 to fund research into the disease, which affects 700,000 people in the UK.

HOW IS THIS A PR ISSUE?

His move produced acres of column inches and news items for many broadcasters last week and the subject was widely discussed in the weekend papers. Pratchett pledged the money to a UK charity, the Alzheimer's Research Trust, which has used the announcement to renew its call for government to do more to find a cure.

HOW IS THE CHARITY APPROACHING ITS COMMS?

Chiefly by using figures. For every person with Alzheimer's in the UK, £11 is spent each year on research comp-ared with £289 for each cancer patient, even though similar numbers of people are affected. Pratchett said dementia lacks the 'heroic glamour' of cancer.

WHY WAS PRATCHETT'S STATEMENT IMPORTANT?

It is pretty rare that anyone well-known admits to the condition and it has acted as a lightning conductor for other stakeholders' comms efforts. The Alzheimer's Society, which recently submitted recommendations to the Department of Health on treatment, also praised his decision.

ANY VIEWS FROM HEALTHCARE PROS?

Kinross + Render chief executive Sara Render told PRWeek that having such a well-known and articulate spokesman should encourage popular support for research. Render was chair of the comms sub-group in the external reference group of the Alzheimer's Society (a K+R pro bono client last year).

HAVE PHARMA COMPANIES RESPONDED?

Yes, via the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Director general Richard Barker said that, when it comes to research into treatment for Alzheimer's, 'fans of the Discworld author should know that the international drugs industry is already on the case in a major way'.

ISN'T THERE CONTROVERSY AROUND ALZHEIMER'S DRUGS?

Yes, NICE has been widely criticised for recommending brands such as Pfizer/Eisai's Aricept and Novartis' Exelon to be used on the NHS only to treat 'moderate' cases of Alzheimer's. Campaigners want them used in earlier interventions.

Further information www.alzheimers-research.org.uk.

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