PR Team: Department of Health ‘Media Initiatives’ team and British
Medical Association’s public affairs division
Campaign: Doctor Patient Partnership
Timing: March 1996 with ongoing regional events
Cost: pounds 2.75 million including a pounds 750,000 advertising
campaign by Ogilvy & Mather and funding for health authorities local
Out of hours calls to GPs have doubled since 1990 and now stand at 2.2
million a year, according to the British Medical Association. The number
of medical graduates opting for general practice is declining, while the
hours worked by GPs continues to increase - 23 per cent of GPs now work
over 80 hours a week. With increased patient expectations, paperwork and
more treatments taking place outside hospitals, the number of annual
consultations per GP has risen from 8,000 in 1988 to 12,000 seven years
Last year the BMA’s GP committee went into dispute with the Government
about payment for GPs’ out of hours work. As part of the resolution, the
Government agreed to fund an awareness campaign to teach patients how to
use the service responsibly.
To curb the ever-growing demand for night visits by GPs, which has risen
by 600 per cent in the last 25 years, and to educate patients on the
appropriate day and night use of family doctors, enabling them to
concentrate their time on the truly sick.
The Doctor Patient Partnership programme kicked off with a national
press advertising campaign on February 28. To coincide with the
advertising launch, the Department of Health and BMA distributed a press
pack, containing copies of the 750-word text ads and a copy of a speech
made by health secretary Stephen Dorrell at the launch, to print and
The national media push was followed by an ongoing campaign of events at
regional and local health authority level. The BMA commissioned Two-Ten
to produce a syndicated radio broadcast featuring BMA GP committee
negotiator Dr Simon Fradd.
Using the Doctor Patient Partnership press and resource pack, each local
authority also conducted its own media relations campaign providing
contact details of local doctors willing to be interviewed. Many of
these doctors carried out leafleting and awareness drives in their
surgeries and local communities.
The message gained considerable news and features coverage in the days
following the launch, with subsequent regional interest. Many family
doctors were invited to write and broadcast on a national and regional
basis and several broadsheets ran think pieces on the changing role of
doctors in society. There were however some dissenting voices, with
family GPs’ hours compared to opening hours across the service sector.
The Guardian’s Mark Lawson also pointed out a contradiction between
health awareness campaigns that focus on different diseases each week,
and a call to patients to bother their GP less.
The campaign fulfilled its remit to generate discussion on the issue of
how patients and family doctors should interact, and the Department of
Health’s chief press officer, forward planning and campaigns, Nick
Gammage was pleased with not only the initial coverage but also the
public response to the campaign.
However, it will be some time before the campaigners can assess whether
patient behaviour has changed at a local and sustained level.
Gammage says: ‘The department’s remit was to raise awareness through
news and think piece coverage. Now it is up to doctors to sustain
momentum at local level.’