Health comms jobs slashed

The Department of Health is planning to cut its comms department by a third in the coming year as it prepares for fundamental changes to the health service.

The department expects to slash its comms staff from 133 to 89 in the next 12 months, according to figures released by Freedom of Information.

The revelations are the first in PRWeek's 'state of the public sector' series of reports looking at the extent of changes to governmental comms after two years of deep cuts.

The cutbacks come as the department prepares to move comms and marketing responsibilities to the NHS Commissioning Board, Public Health England and local government in April 2013, under reforms in the Health and Social Care Act.

Director of comms Sam Lister admitted that the shifts in responsibility would result in job cuts, although some staff are expected to be moved across to the two agencies.

Overall 2011-12 DH comms budgets have more than doubled to £47.8m from the coalition's 'Year Zero' of cuts in 2010-11 (£20.7m) and are now largely at the same level as they were in 2007-08 (£45.1m).

Despite this, PR as a part of overall comms spend is shrinking rapidly to just two per cent, down from ten per cent in 2007-08.

Deputy director, public health and social care marketing manager Sheila Mitchell explained that the department had ploughed more investment into social media and digital activities and away from pure PR.

The headcount cuts come despite concerns over the scale of reductions to the DH comms spend in the winter of 2010-11, when it axed its public information campaign on influenza and recycled the previous year's campaign.

Last December, Freud Communications was appointed on a one-year £1m contract to undertake public health campaigning for the Department of Health.

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