People afflicted by social phobia or social anxiety disorder aren’t
just shy. They’ll totally avoid situations many of us take for granted,
regardless of the consequences to their job, relationships or their
Last week SmithKline Beecham launched a drug, Seroxat, to treat social
phobia. Shyness, the lay media terminology for social phobia, grabbed
the headlines when the Sunday Times led reports of its imminent
availability on the NHS, with a comparison between Seroxat and Viagra as
lifestyle drugs. It put the cost to the NHS as a massive pounds 700
million a year.
By Monday the Daily Mail had the cost down to pounds 250 million, but
continued to link Seroxat to the controversy over lifestyle drugs. These
were worrying times for SmithKline which saw how Viagra was banned from
the NHS due to cost fears.
Both stories ran before SmithKline Beecham’s press conference last
Thursday, where the company and psychiatrists put Seroxat’s case. The
Times subsequently wrote a balanced piece, the Guardian incorporated the
company line and a NHS bill of pounds 24 million.
For a drug such as this, evaluation is through quality of message and
previous comparisons with Viagra were at most unhelpful. Seroxat’s link
with lifestyle drugs could be foreseen. So it begs the question, how
much was done to prepare for and manage the product’s introduction?
Ensuring that all audiences appreciate the context and implications of
the product’s introduction is essential and should include the
Psychiatrists led the press conference but failed to convince
journalists of the seriousness of the illness or the measures to
identify those deserving of treatment. Why? Lack of planning, briefing,
preparation, time in consultation with the media? All too often,
companies allow too little time for the complex series of tasks needed
to ensure successful media relations.
Would the media have taken the line it did if third party organisations
had supported the product more widely?
This weekend the Independent stated that the cost to the NHS of pounds
700 million a year was probably on target and that the arguments for
Seroxat’s availability are not convincing. However, no one has
questioned the effectiveness of the product - a crucial issue for the
public and doctors alike.