A whirlwind of change for health comms shows no sign of abating this autumn

What a ride health communicators have had: revealing scientific breakthroughs, engaging on health and social care policy, landing public health guidance, managing rocketing levels of attention on our work and our people.

The health sector has never been more in focus, says Jo Spadaccino
The health sector has never been more in focus, says Jo Spadaccino

Whether you are in-house or agency-side, public or private sector, connecting with audiences in the UK or globally, the past 18 months have been one never-ending whirlwind. Although we can be a self-deprecating lot, we must be proud as a discipline that our work has been instrumental to the COVID-19 response and recovery.

As we continue to manage, but also to learn how to live with, COVID-19 and its wide implications, here are a few things to keep a close eye on over the next few months.

People changes. With a double whammy of a new health and social care secretary and a new NHS chief executive, it is not only the faces that will change but also the priorities and the operating styles. For those working on US business, the hunt for a new FDA chief will also be one to track. Staying close to the agenda and looking beyond what is said to what is done will be vital for any communicators in the health space, no matter what brief you are working on.

System changes. The NHS continues to progress its structural reforms with the creation of Integrated Care Systems and Partnerships, social care funding is still somewhat of a hot potato and when it comes to medicines, the NICE methods review promises to provide faster, fairer access to new drugs and devices. For those on the pharma side, getting to grips with the new ABPI code will provide another layer of operational detail to navigate.

Business changes. Players in the life sciences market continue to shapeshift as M&A continues apace – largely driven by the appetite of big pharma to build up their oncology and gene/cell therapy portfolios. While previous big acquisitions like Takeda of Shire, AbbVie of Allergan and Bristol Myers Squibb of Celgene bed in, deals such as the acquisition by AstraZeneca of Alexion Pharma will just be getting started. Add the speculation about the role of big tech and large retail companies in the health space, and in particular what Google’s recent dismantling of its health division might mean, and things get interesting.

All that is before we even talk about what’s next in the efforts to manage the COVID-19 fallout – we will inevitably face a tough winter that requires our attention on management of a disease that is still a threat to life, while ensuring that other threats to the health of our population are not forgotten.

The health sector has never been more in focus. While that brings great positives, levels of burnout have never been so high for those healthcare workers, policymakers, and others we hope to engage. As health communicators, that poses a real risk for us, too. As we continue to ride the waves of change, putting mental wellbeing at the centre of everything will arguably be our top priority this autumn.

Jo Spadaccino is co-founder of Stirred

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