AT A GLANCE: AstraZeneca mental health site backs choice agenda

So this is a website?
Yes, set up by AstraZeneca (AZ) to promote the choice agenda in mental health services. It aims to tell patients how they can switch from one drug to another to best manage their condition. It highlights the work of a group called Choice, which is made up of interested parties, including patients, academics and health workers.

What is AZ’s part in all this?
One of its biggest drugs is Seroquel, a treatment for schizophrenia. The pharma giant’s UK head of comms is Amie Malkin. Technical and editorial support for the site itself was provided by Pulsar Healthcare Communications, whose MD is Melanie Kirk.

But presumably Seroquel is not mentioned on the site?
No, the brand cannot be promoted in that way. But by being seen to back the choice agenda, and by providing an online vehicle for non-pharma information for patients, AZ is showing a commitment that should enhance its reputation in this therapy area.

What does Choice say?
Choice member Dr Richard Gray, senior lecturer and head of psychiatric nursing at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, told PRWeek: ‘We are looking at other, different ways of promoting the choice agenda, hence the website. We didn’t set out to provide information on medicines and treatments.’ The site contains patient case studies and questions that users should ask doctors. International translations of the website are planned.

Why is choice the key to it all?
So-called ‘patient-centred’ therapy, based on the idea that patients know what they need and that medical workers do not have all the answers, is all the rage. ‘Shared decision-making’ is a buzzphrase and the site contains an interactive zone where patients, carers and health professionals can answer questions about their understanding of choice issues.

Is mental health high on the political agenda?
It has been floating boats this year in Westminster and Whitehall, with the Government proposing new mental health laws. Last month, Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced that as of 2010, £170m a year would be spent on psychological therapies for mental health patients (PRWeek, 19 October).

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