Consumer healthcare expert believes a hung parliament need not impact PR industry

Allidura team leader Ben Hickey has penned an opinion piece discussing the impact of a hung parliament on selfcare and improvements in public health.

The consumer healthcare communicator has discussed what a hung parliament could mean for the healthcare PR industry.

In the piece, Hickey said: ‘One thing we do know is that the Liberal Democrats have pledged to halve the amount that the Department of Health spends on advertising, publishing and PR. If they are part of a future coalition government, what could happen to our public health marketing campaigns and will it be up to brands to fill any void?'

Watch Hickey take part in PRWeek's podcast later this week.

Opinion piece:

Following a rather stagnant drive out of the blocks, the general election

game is now on, largely thanks to the first live televised debate and a surge in support for the often-overlooked Liberal Democrats.  As we move closer to the actual election day we are being advised of the potential benefits and issues with waking up on 7 May to a hung parliament.  But what might it mean to the legislative programme and the on-going political movement towards selfcare and improvements in public health? Could a hung parliament leave the OTC industry and national minor ailments scheme hung out to dry? And what impact might it have on the marketing and PR industries? One thing we do know though is that the Liberal Democrats have pledged to half the amount that the Department of Health spends on advertising, publishing and PR. If they are part of a future coalition government, what could happen to our public health marketing campaigns and will it be up to brands to fill any void?

Political pundits are frantically number crunching to predict what our next government might look like. To them, a Labour or Tory minority government or even a Lib-Lab pact are looking most likely, although nothing should be ruled out. But how might a coalition government affect the policy and legislative output of Westminster? Phrases such as 'policy vacuum' and words such as 'inert', 'unstable' and 'ineffective' are sometimes used to suggest that coalition governments are "hopelessly stalled".  This is largely due to our past experience with hung parliaments in the UK, the most obvious being the minority Labour government of 1979.

However, in the area of selfcare and pharmacy empowerment, the parties share enough common ground to get something done and continue the momentum in this area through good, old-fashioned consensus politics. In addition to the similar ideology of the main three parties in this area, there is a common realisation of the service and drug-cost savings required at the Department of Health.

Reading the manifestos and analysing the key healthcare speeches and hustings, all three main parties agree that more services should switch from GP surgeries to high street pharmacies - but which ones and when? The Pharmacy White Paper is now two years old and there have been no specifics from any of the main parties in this area during the campaign.

However, despite the consensus amongst the parties on the selfcare topic there are other, often more critical and divisive areas that the parties disagree on in the healthcare arena. The fear is that the Department of Health, its ministers and the legislative timetable will become bogged down in more high-profile areas such as scrapping Strategic Health Authorities (a key Liberal Democrat policy), the expansion of Foundation Trusts (a Labour pledge) or the reform of NICE (a Conservative Party cornerstone).

But this need not be the case. Minority governments and coalition governments have had great success around the world in tackling the big issues and also driving forward with reform. In Canada, for example, the universal healthcare reforms of the 1960s were implemented by a minority government. Under a hung parliament the next government, which ever colour (or colours) it ends up being, will need to change the current style of governing to become more collaborative and debate, negotiate and compromise more.

Without a crystal ball it will be difficult for the pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare industries to predict the future. Even when the election result is known it might take several weeks for a coalition government to be formed and begin work.  What is known is that the pharmacy policy area is one of the most likely to survive the political wranglings that surround coalition government negotiations.  But with coalition governments in Italy and the Netherlands taking over 70 days to be formed and agreed, the issue might then become one of timing.  The Queen's Speech is timetabled for 25 May and then we will see whether the politicians will have the political will and energy to drive forward with the pharmacy and selfcare reforms we have all been waiting for.

Ben Hickey is a team leader at Allidura, Chandler Chicco Companies' consumer healthcare division.



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