The healthcare agency is handling crisis comms for Reckitt Benckiser around the revelations that thousands of packets of the over-the-counter painkiller may have been filled with an anti-psychotic drug called Seroquel.
The Daily Mail has this morning run with the front page headline ‘Painkillers "sabotaged"’, and this line has also been taken in The Daily Telegraph.
The Daily Mail writes today: ‘It is thought militant activists carried out the sabotage operation with the intention of damaging Nurofen Plus’s makers… The company may have been targeted because it tests some products on animals’.
A spokeswoman for Virgo Health, said the agency is ‘not happy’ with the Daily Mail’s line and denies the company uses animal testing.
The agency is issuing statements to the media from Nurofen Plus medical director Dr Aomesh Bhatt, the latest of which states: ‘Nurofen Plus has a firm policy of not testing on animals. We don’t know where the Daily Mail got their story’.
‘This speculation is not something that we are supporting at all,’ said the spokeswoman. ‘That’s an avenue we’re pursuing. It can’t be ruled out, but it’s not what we’re informed.’
She added that if the newspaper has information then it should be helping the company with its investigation.
The agency has been preparing for the issue over the ‘past few days’, and its messaging priority has been to advise people to check the packs in case they contain the wrong tablets.
‘We’re reiterating that it’s a serious issue, making sure consumers know what to do. As long as they’re vigilant, there is no issue. It’s quite simple because of the action that needs to be taken,’ said the Virgo Health spokeswoman.
Red Consultancy healthcare MD Pat Pearson commented that issues of this type are ‘among the most serious’ for the healthcare sector. He added: ‘Reckitt Benckiser and AstraZeneca (the manufacturer of Seroquel) have been quick to issue statements and ensure the media report the action they have under way’.
‘What they have also done well is to provide good guidance beyond the official statements, advising journalists that the problem is unlikely to be in manufacturing or supply by the companies.’
Insignia Communications founder Jonathan Hemus commented that the extensive use of Bhatt’s quotes in early press coverage ‘ensured that the brand had influence over how the story broke’.
However, he added: ‘Where I feel the brand could have done more is in providing additional information for consumers concerned that their tablets might have been affected.
‘When news broke early in the evening, BBC Online linked to Reckitt Benckiser’s site, but there was no sign of a statement on it, or on Nurofen’s own site (a short statement was added today) or its Facebook page.’
Virgo Health was appointed by Reckitt for the global Nurofen brief in 2006.