Department of Health defends PR around handling of flu

The Department of Health's comms director has defended its seasonal flu campaign but a senior health journalist criticised the DH as 'negligent and slow-footed'.

DH defends PR around handling of flu: Sian Jarvis
DH defends PR around handling of flu: Sian Jarvis

The Government has faced attacks in the media over the number of recent flu deaths, the axing of a public information campaign and vaccine supplies running out.

DH director of comms Sian Jarvis also denied suggestions that the DH’s comms had been affected by budget cuts. ‘Our in-house operation is as rob­ust as ever. In no way have we been limited in resources,’ she said.

But The Guardian’s health cor­respondent Denis Campbell this week criticised the DH comms effort in the wake of the flu crisis, after the dep­artment relied on a series of press briefings over Christmas and recycling last year’s ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it’ hygiene advertising campaign.

Campbell told PRWeek: ‘The lack of preparation was foolhardy, they have been negligent and slow-footed. I think that the media have been doing the job the Government should have been doing – by communicating with at-risk groups with news stories.’

Jarvis responded to Campbell’s comments by saying: ‘Our preparations for winter and the flu season are robust.

‘As every year we launch the seasonal flu vaccine drive in September, thisyear with a media press briefing on 30 September and a round of media interviews. The interim chief medical officer also wrote out to every GPadvising them on the arrangements for calling in at-risk patients to have their new seasonal flu vaccine. It also highlighted the  arrangements for vaccinating pregnant women.

‘This activity has been supported by extensive online communications to the public as well as through over 100 consumer magazine titles. As soon as the cold weather arrived we took the opportunity of reminding the public about how to prepare themselves and have held a number of press briefings for journalists, providing them with access to all the clinical experts, further demonstrating our commitment to open and transparent access to the latest information.’

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