In October 1998 the former Chilean president General Pinochet
arrived in the UK to undergo an operation on his back at Priory
Healthcare’s London clinic.
During this period, the UK Government was considering a request from the
Spanish courts to extradite Pinochet for crimes against humanity.
Pinochet was discharged from the clinic but was later admitted to
another of Priory Healthcare’s hospitals, Grovelands Priory Hospital in
Southgate, to have treatment for post-operative stress.
After two weeks of treatment, Pinochet attended an initial bail
Being pronounced fit, he was asked by the hospital to leave as his
treatment was complete. In spite of repeated requests, Pinochet and his
entourage stayed a further two weeks.
Grovelands became the focus of the world’s media. Concern was growing
about the disruption to other patients and local residents by the
presence of pressure groups, the press and armed police. Priory
Healthcare was being portrayed as the exclusive London hideaway of an
To deny any sympathy for Pinochet’s cause. To re-establish Priory
Healthcare as a leading hospital group - not an exclusive hotel chain -
providing non-elitist, independent treatment.
It was of paramount importance for Priory Healthcare to remove Pinochet
to protect its brand. However, it was also vital not to be seen as being
unsympathetic or overtly aggressive in its course of action - the
decision to leave needed to come from Pinochet himself.
Harvard was fielding between 40 and 50 calls every day, but because of
patient confidentiality, could not comment on the General’s health.
Harvard and Priory Healthcare’s marketing department decided that direct
media communications was the only way to make Priory Healthcare’s stance
clear. It produced a short statement with a quote from the clinic
clearly stating that it had asked Pinochet to leave and sent the release
to the broadsheets.
The statement appeared the following day on the front pages of the
Independent and the Guardian and on page three of the Times and the
By 11am, Pinochet was packing his bags in preparation to leave that
Harvard’s role was now to manage the departure and liaise with the
The agency talked directly to News at Ten, the Nine O’Clock News, Sky
and IRN. It also faxed a statement to the Press Association at 5.45pm -
just as Pinochet passed through the front gates of Grovelands.
This statement reiterated Priory Healthcare’s position and thanked
Pinochet and the police for expediting his move. Press coverage in the
following morning’s papers was sympathetic towards the clinic.
Direct communication with the media proved the fastest and most
effective way to remove Pinochet, let the world know the clinic’s stance
on the former dictator and rescue its professional reputation before any
major damage was done.
’I was pleased with the outcome,’ says Priory Healthcare’s marketing
director Jazz Panchoo. ’We didn’t want to get involved in the media
circus or with political wranglings. We maintained our good name both
nationally and with the local community.’
Client: Priory Healthcare Ltd
PR Team: Harvard PR
Campaign: General Pinochet goes to ground at Grovelands Priory Hospital
Timescale: November 1998