DH 'prepared' for swine flu crisis

The Department of Health's (DH) comms chief has told how government press officers have coped with the media and public clamour for information about swine flu.

Jarvis: leads the team
Jarvis: leads the team

DH comms director Sian Jarvis told PRWeek eight press officers on the department’s news desk had already taken a record 450 calls on Monday – and more as the week went on.

Jarvis added she was pulling together a ‘crack team’ of press officers this week to spec­ifically focus on the outbreak.

‘We have been preparing for this type of situation for years,’ said Jarvis. ‘Our key messages are reassurance for the public that we have enough anti­virals for half of the population. We are also promoting simple steps that the public can take concerning hygiene.’

The DH is in the process of editing its flu advertising campaign from last year. As PRWeek went to press, it was preparing to air TV, print and radio ads aimed at stopping the spread of infection and door-drop leaflets containing information about preventive measures.

The Government’s messages are being designed and cleared by the DH while the Cabinet Office is briefing comms chiefs from other departments.

Jarvis and Permanent Secretary of Government Comms Matt Tee are also involved in crisis meetings being held by the Government’s emergency COBRA committee. The committee met to discuss swine flu late on Wednesday morning, with the session chaired by Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

Other organisations have also been increasing PR act­ivity in anticipation of a pandemic. The British Medical Association has been using Twitter to remind GPs of guidelines produced in January. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has extended its brief with Media Consulta UK to handle its crisis comms. Media Consulta UK head of health PR Zala Zia said it was vital to limit panic and to communicate factual information.

But the National Pig Association (NPA) is refusing to bow to pressure to release a statement to the public that pork products are safe to eat. Some confusion surrounding the safety of pork products has been circulating on Twitter and elsewhere. But NPA general manager Barney Kay said the organisation did not feel the need to set the record straight.

He said: ‘Releasing a statement will only make the story run longer.’


How I see it

Jonathan Hemus
MD and crisis expert, Insignia PR

To engender confidence, the key thing for the Government to communicate is that it is on top of the situation. The more information it gives out, the more of the information vacuum it will fill, which will reduce the amount of speculation and ill-information.

Tim Luckett
MD, crisis management, Hill & Knowlton

The Government needs to be communicating reassurance and keeping all lines of communication open. So far the media coverage has been pretty factual – it could have been far more sensationalist. The media angles will change and slowly companies will also come under the spotlight.


20% of articles mentioned the word ‘pandemic’*

13% of articles mentioned the word ‘deadly’*

3% of articles mentioned the word ‘panic’*

53% of articles were negative in tone*

0.02% of articles were positive in tone*

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