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PR group launched to counter pharma's poor public image

Published on 20/07/05 at 07:14pm

A new forum has been launched to promote dialogue between healthcare stakeholders and improve public perception of the pharma industry.

The Chartered Institute of PR's  new Health and Medical Group will also aim to promote effective communications and act as a link between the NHS, pharmaceutical companies, and a range of other stakeholders.

"It's a huge task that we're taking on," said group chair, Justin Wilkes of Spink Consumer Relations. "It's going to be a long-term process to create greater communication and greater trust and ensure the industry is proud of what it's doing and talks about it more positively."

In addition to Wilkes, the Group includes vice chair Matthew Willis, media officer with the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service, secretary Michael Smeeth, head of UK healthcare at Fleishman-Hillard; and treasurer Adrian Penrose, communications manager with MRC Human Nutrition Research.

Committee members will be Richard Cobourne, director, On Screen Productions; Karen Winterhalter, partner, Onyx Health; Rachelle Michaels, PR manager, Merck Sharpe and Dohme; Sylvia Barber, PR manager, Bayer; Deborah Goodhart, press and communications manager, Whittington Hospital NHS Trust; Kunle Thomas, communications lead, CPPIH; and Diane Leakey, head of communications, MHRA.

"It's a new group and it's still early days, so our focus for the next 12 months is to raise awareness and get more people involved," said Wilkes. "I know there are other groups around but I don't think they're concentrating on this particular aspect of bringing people together and talking about all the issues."

The Group was put together following a meeting on trust in health matters that was held at the National Patient Safety Agency in April. The meeting discussed the frequently observed feeling of suspicion about health information which means the public just don't know who to trust.

One of the speakers, the former health minister Lord Hunt, called for "institutional change" while MHRA director of communications Simon Gregor urged all health professionals, including those in communications, to work together and trust each other to create a better public perception of healthcare provision.

Trust is the key issue according to Wilkes. He said the press will always pursue stories that are going to interest their readers, but said pharma is currently guilty of not talking enough about the positive side of what it does.

"The industry tends to be focused on crisis management and reacting to scare stories rather than talking positively about all of the great things that are going on," he said.

The Health and Medical Group is open to both CIPR members and non-members and 140 Institute members have expressed an interest in it. Four events are planned over the coming year to attract new members and establish the Group in the sector, with the first scheduled for the first half of September.

The CIPR was founded in 1948 and is the largest professional body for PR practitioners in Europe, boasting more than 8,000 members.

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