Healthcare experts criticise Government's swine flu messaging

Senior healthcare communications experts have criticised the Government's handling of the swine flu crisis as media headlines continue to be dominated by the pandemic.

Swine flu: mixed messaging criticised
Swine flu: mixed messaging criticised

Virgo Health co-founder Angie Wiles said of the Government's reaction: ‘The Government has the best of intentions but the worst of communications. The NHS is receiving so many updates that the advice keeps changing and they are failing to keep up with it. GPs and PCTs are trying to get on with it but it's difficult because there is no precedence.'
This weekend saw a swathe of coverage on the swine flu crisis, including advice from the National Childbirth Trust telling women to delay getting pregnant until after the pandemic has passed. The former secretary of state for health Alan Johnson spoke out against this advice on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday and said it was an overreaction to say women should not have babies during the pandemic.
The Daily Mail ran with a story on the front page this morning with the headline: ‘Swine flu: Who can mothers believe?', which criticised the mixed messaging which was creating confusion for parents.
Tonic Life Communications CEO Scott Clark said: ‘While the government is the prime source for ‘official' information there must be more alignment and coordination on information creation, provision and timing.  Mothers-to-be will not look only to the government for information, they will also seek out trusted sources of information.  Therefore work has to be done immediately to ensure there is a consistent message based on evidence.'  
Clark also criticised Alan Johnson's remarks on The Andrew Marr Show when he said: ‘[Swine flu] came actually above terrorism as a threat to this country.'
Clark said: ‘Alan Johnson equating H1N1 to a terrorism threat may make for good headlines but it doesn't actually help maintain public calm and understanding.  Yes, we need to know that this is more serious than a common cold, but likewise to paint a mental picture of some sort of viral suicide bomber can only stimulate panic.'
NHS crisis expert and MD of Media Training Masterclasses Warwick Partington said the Chief Medical Officer, Strategic Health Authority and Health Protection Agency spokespeople should now be reinforcing the message that all that can be done is being done, and that the NHS is well prepared. ‘Such reassurance needs consistent and constant reinforcement and no doubt we will see and hear it over the next few months,' said Partington.

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