Public Sector: NHS reforms 'could hit health campaigns'

There are mounting concerns that the Government's restructuring of the NHS could leave the country unprepared for a future major health scare similar to swine flu.

NHS London director of comms and public affairs Stephen Webb expressed concern that the joined-up comms response the Department of Health and NHS rolled out to prepare the public for epidemics such as bird flu and foot and mouth could soon become a thing of the past.

Webb said it was currently 'very unclear' who would be responsible for 'command and control' comms now that GPs are to be handed more power.

He added: 'At the moment, there is a system that can get messages through from the top to the bottom and back up.

'In the new world, it is not clear how the comms side of that will work. If GPs use a mixture of providers, which is the option now, how do you get a consistent message out at national level?'

Webb also suggested that proactive national campaigns, such as the Know Your Limits alcohol units campaign handled by Fishburn Hedges, faced an uncertain future.

A spokesman for the DH responded: 'This is nonsense. Comms campaigns that have a strong rationale for a single, co-ordinated action will still be commissioned nationally.'

However, Webb's views were supported by public sector specialist Kindred. The agency's social marketing director Sue Nelson said GPs taking over the delivery of health education campaigns prompted 'numerous concerns about campaign impact and value for money, so clarification of how this will work would be welcome'.

Meanwhile, Grayling public sector MD James Ford pointed to the new National Commissioning Board as potentially playing a major role in overseeing national campaigns.

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