Sector: Healthcare

Four lessons from a second COVID-dominated year in health

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As COVID-19 looks to dominate governments’ policies and health budgets deep into 2022, what lessons have we learned from a second pandemic-affected year? And what do these lessons tell us of our future health landscape?

Earlier in 2021, I wrote a blog post in which I envisaged what post-pandemic work and health culture would look like. Nearly a year on, we’re still waiting for the post-pandemic world, but this year has been an incredible year for health professionals worldwide, with more than half of the world’s adults having received at least one vaccination against COVID-19.

While this is great news for most of us, much of the developing world still does not enjoy the same access to vaccines. Just as we appeared to be getting on top of the Delta variant, Omicron emerged in Southern Africa, possibly because in part of a lack of vaccine availability.

Which brings me to my first lesson:

1) Global challenges require global solutions

We have seen governments take something of a unilateral approach to COVID-19 policy, even within the European Union (EU). For future pandemics, national governments, international health bodies and the pharmaceutical sector must work together to ensure a fair and uniform solution to suppress the spread.

2) Faith in pharma has grown – but varies around the world

The effectiveness of vaccines has been proven in reducing hospitalisation and death rates dramatically among the infected. A by-product of the international fightback against COVID-19 in 2021 has been the enhanced reputation of the pharmaceutical sector.

As Grayling’s own research of 3,000 adults worldwide found in mid-2021, nearly half (49%) of those surveyed view the pharmaceutical industry more positively now than before the pandemic. Our study also found that people are more aware now of what the pharma industry does and its leading brands.

3) People are more comfortable sharing their health data

As of September 2021, more than 16 million people in the UK had downloaded the NHS App. As I wrote earlier this year, I believe people are becoming more confident in sharing their health data, so long as it is used carefully and for their benefit and for wider societal good. With the prospect of needing to prove vaccination and booster history to enter venues and travel internationally, I fully expect take-up to continue apace throughout 2022.

4) Communication must be clear and consistent, but with scope to be flexible

For me, the best communicators during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have been healthcare professionals. We saw that when the Government kept the message simple, for example ‘Hands. Face. Space’ it was generally understood and likely to lead to high compliance. When messages became more nuanced, or indeed were undermined by other external factors, it was harder to maintain a consistent narrative. For many people some of the standout communicators this year were our medics and public health experts, including England’s deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam, whom PR Week listed as one of the year’s top UK communicators.

In recent weeks especially we have seen the importance of leading by example. Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty’s reference this week to the work he would himself be doing this Christmas in hospitals, as he did last year, was both authentic and inspiring. For more, read this post on effective communicating during the pandemic by my Grayling colleagues in New York.


The healthcare sector, which has shown so much resilience and adaptability over the last couple of years, must remain flexible to meet fast-evolving challenges. It’s done an incredible job so far, but it’s key that we don’t forget that the world faces many other health challenges outside of COVID-19.

As we have also covered this year, the keys to tackling any public health challenges are to educate, tell human stories and tailor approaches for the local context. These three pillars provide health sector communicators with a strong platform to get their message across.

As we all wish for a more positive 2022, it’s essential we learn from the lessons of what goes before so we can build a stronger, healthier future together.

By Kathryn Ager, Head of Health, Grayling 

Get in touch with Kathryn for more information or if you’d like us to help you find ways to create advantage.

Why corporate citizenship can cement changing perceptions of pharma

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Are these halcyon days for the pharmaceutical sector? And can they last?  

The phrase “halcyon days” derives from Greek mythology. Aeolus, god of wind, would protect his daughter from stormy winds for seven days each year. She had been transformed into a kingfisher-like halcyon bird and needed his protection to make her nest on a beach each year. Thus, halcyon days are happy, successful (and storm-less) periods of time. 

There can be no doubt that the reputation of the pharma sector has left choppier waters. It has been rehabilitated by the emergence of effective Covid-19 vaccines, giving it a once-in-a-generation chance to claim significant reputational – and commercial – gains.  

That positive impact could be seen tangibly, emotionally and statistically during the pandemic. From vaccine data to case studies of survival and deep-dive profiles of the scientists, doctors and nurses making a difference, this was wholesome reputational recovery. 

Time is of the essence: already, talk is emerging of a ‘softening’ of pharma’s reputation as attention on Covid subsides and old perceptions start to come into the foreground. The winds of challenge and negativity are returning. 

Preventing those perceptions from dominating sentiment is really important. Pharma companies large and small have a critical role to play – as do biotech businesses – in shaping society. This has always been true, of course, but now most stakeholders, from investors to patients, have a fundamental interest in what that means in practice. 

Pharma companies that successfully create links between science and society stand to gain most. This is perhaps most acutely seen in Latin America, where many emerging markets are experiencing serious health and economic challenges. 

In LATAM, Covid has led to high excess deaths in many nations, with Peru and Chile topping the global list of deviation from expected deaths. Many Latin American nations were devastated by Covid waves in 2020 and 2021 and are still recovering.  

These emerging markets are simultaneously dealing with health systems that are still developing and growing. In some cases, patients of certain conditions will be getting access to treatment for the first time as new drugs and technology find their way into their health systems. It is a region where health, economics and social progress are deeply, perpetually intertwined. 

Pharma can learn from the pandemic. To continue its reputational recovery, it needs tangible evidence to demonstrate how it can support change. The obvious territory here are drugs pipelines, trials data or other positive pharma outcomes.  

But the sector must now go further than this. It must also show its social, human impact. With health systems creaking, giving pharma a face – and a heart – has never been more important. In so doing, pharma companies become socially relevant and harder to distrust. 


Twitter mentions of 'pharma' and selected keywords over time

Twitter mentions of ‘pharma’ and selected keywords over time


Our analysis of global social media mentions points to an arresting drop in emphasis on some of these things. Across the board, the volume of mentions of some of the positive themes associated with the pharma industry is declining – and fast.

This isn’t really about Covid anymore, either. Whether in LATAM or elsewhere, most nations have a backlog or shortage of diagnostics, treatment and investment. This has real consequences for health systems whose infrastructure has been damaged or strained by Covid.  The impact on society is there to see in missed appointments, delayed surgeries and the knock-on consequences of this. 

Thus, pharma companies must acknowledge that their role is not purely scientific, or medical. It is as much economic as it is societal. It is macro and micro. The opportunity lies in getting stakeholders, patient groups, governments and the corporate community to see the wider positive benefits of pharma just as they have done with recently with Covid.  

The fruits of reputational gains are substantial. To return to South America, pharma growth in LATAM has matched the severity of the challenge: there are many examples of companies posting double-digit growth in sales, and the entire LATAM market is predicted to grow by 7% to hit US$76 billion in 2023.  

Pharma has proven its worth, by demonstrating collaboration, commitment and huge societal impact throughout the pandemic. Cementing perception change is now about ensuring everyone understands pharma more clearly. In so doing, when the Covid lens is finally removed, our vision of the industry remains clear, positive and rooted in social benefit. 

If you would like to discuss how Grayling can help your healthcare business improve its reputation through business-critical, creative communications, contact Kathryn Ager

Goodwill towards pharma is growing but inconsistent Grayling survey finds

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Safety of treatments, honesty and ethics most important factors in US

2020 put a spotlight on the pharmaceutical industry and it still shines bright. At no other time in history has there been so much content created, shared and consumed about the companies working to create coronavirus vaccines. Much of the industry has been in overdrive, creating new vaccines at record speed while also facing an onslaught of misinformation.

A worldwide study by communications agency Grayling* set out to assess public perceptions of the pharma industry and found that people generally feel more positive towards the industry than they did before the pandemic. However, levels of positivity vary significantly according to country and experts warn the goodwill may not last unless pharma companies are more transparent.

The survey of 3,000 people in six countries – the UK, US, France, Germany, China and Russia – found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents felt that the pharmaceutical industry has a positive impact on society. In the US specifically that fell to just over half (55%) with three in ten (29%) believing that the industry has a negative impact overall. Across all markets almost half (49%) of those surveyed viewed the pharmaceutical industry more positively than before the pandemic.

Pharma brands face a perception challenge

The survey also found that people are more likely to have heard of pharma manufacturers due to the pandemic but, while overall sentiment towards all the pharma brands we cited had improved, the picture is mixed.

Of respondents in the US, three in five (59%) adults said they knew a little or a lot about the pharmaceutical industry in general, with one in ten (10%) claiming to know ‘a lot’.

Pfizer, the most commonly known vaccine producer in the US, enjoyed a healthy approval rating (68% positive) among those who have heard of the brand in the US. Meanwhile, more than a third (42%) of people said what they heard about Johnson & Johnson was negative.

Factors influencing US adults’ views of pharmaceutical companies in general

When thinking about their views of pharmaceutical companies in general, the most important aspect for US adults is how safe their treatments are (82%), followed by how honest and ethical they are (77%). Three quarters (75%) said the amount of research and development companies conduct into new research is important to them, followed by how fairly they price their treatments (72%).

Less important factors among US adults include whether they also produce consumer healthcare brands they trust (55%), and whether they are based in the US (47%).

The COVID pandemic made pharma companies relevant for everyone. People that hadn’t needed to give them one thought previously were now highly engaged, researching and forming opinions. Knowing where they stand is a crucial to inform effective communications strategies for all companies, and especially now for those in the pharma industry.

As part of its Emerging from Covid-19: What Next for the Pharmaceutical Industry? report, Grayling also interviewed 14 leading pharmaceutical industry experts for their thoughts on the future direction of the pharma sector in a post-pandemic world. To learn from them and to see the complete US and global findings please click here to download a copy of our report.

To hear more about our healthcare practice in the US, please reach out to Lucia Domville.

*Grayling together with Opinium Research to survey 3,000 members of the public in the UK, US, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Data and Diagnosis: Has Covid created confidence to share our health data?

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At the end of last summer, shortly after the first Covid wave hit the UK, I wrote a blog reflecting on ways in which the pandemic had changed our view of virtual healthcare. This was seemingly a trend which, like many others last year, had accelerated on the back of Covid. At the time I questioned to what extent the public was ready to engage with the majority of their healthcare virtually.

My piece was informed by some research Grayling carried out into when and how people were accessing treatment, what they were happy to do remotely and when they preferred to speak to someone face to face. I also touched on the opportunities technology presents, and the barriers to specific demographic groups, and reflected on the multiple, and frequently controversial, attempts over more than a decade to bring in a simple national system for sharing health data.

I was reminded of the topic again recently when NHSX, the Government body charged with driving the digital transformation of care, published its draft strategy: ‘Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data.’ I wondered whether attitudes to health have shifted over the past 18 months and if there has never been a better time to introduce what NHSX describes as ‘supporting the NHS in creating a modernised system fit for the 21st century which puts patients and staff in pole position’.

Under the proposals, patients will be able to access test results, repeat prescriptions and care plans from across all parts of the health system through patient apps, such as the NHS App. It’s claimed that improving data collection and the way NHS systems work together will mean staff spend less time looking for information they need and more time on patient care. The then UK Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock went further, declaring that ‘data saves lives’.

And there’s little doubt that after the year we have had the public is likely to be far more receptive to this message. From making our vaccination bookings to taking part in research programmes like the Zoe Covid Symptom Study, we have all been happy to share data not just for our own individual benefit, but for the wider good.

However, services such as those provided by the NHS App only work if, as David Aaronovitch recently noted in The Times, there is trust between the patient and the collector of the data.  He points out that this was achieved during the pandemic by adopting a ‘trusted research environments’ model’. This essentially means that data stays where it is, rather like a library reading room, rather than being available for loan.

On this basis, we now have a unique opportunity ahead of us. The public have clearly demonstrated that when they are confident their data is being used responsibly and safely, and where they see a benefit to themselves and others, they are happy to share their data.  The Government needs to build on this increased public engagement to put in place a national system that patients and clinicians alike support and which will benefit us at every stage of life and health. It’s been a tough nut to crack, and taken many years of trying, but with a fair wind, this Government might just do it. Now to tackle social care…


By Kathryn Ager, Head of Health, Grayling

Global Health: What communications lessons can we learn from COVID-19?

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From malaria to HIV, for decades communications has played a vital role in raising awareness of diseases and advocating for action to end suffering.

Looking back to March 2020 and the beginning of you know what, the role of effective communications could not have been more important. What is coronavirus? How does it spread? What are the symptoms? The questions were endless, and it seemed like every organisation around the world was providing guidance and advice on how to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Since then, global health has captured the world’s attention, with endless media coverage, international co-operation and a huge increase in public awareness of matters such as immunisation and disease transmission. So, for the diseases that remain – what lessons can we take from the COVID-19 communications response to ensure that they too get the attention and action they so desperately need?

Education is a powerful tool

COVID-19 laid bare that people’s behaviours and willingness to follow public health advice remain one of the most powerful tools for combatting poor health. Global health organisations must therefore invest in educational campaigns that create clear understanding of how to prevent and treat diseases and illnesses.

With the world going virtual, we’ve seen bodies from the World Health Organization to UNICEF embracing the power of digital, delivering impactful awareness campaigns using social media and accelerating the process of digital transformation in the voluntary sector. At Grayling, we supported Senegalese advocacy tank Speak Up Africa to develop its Stay Safe Africa campaign, to empower communities and individuals to take simple and proven preventative measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Africa. Using uncomplicated and locally sensitive assets and messages that reached over 9 million people on social media, we were able to spread the word during the early stages of the pandemic, when misinformation and confusion was rife.

Tell human stories 

Quite simply, it’s in our nature as human beings to be interested in what happens to others. It was therefore unsurprising that our news feeds were filled with emotive human-interest stories about the detrimental impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had had on people around the world.

When it comes to telling the global health story, it is essential that people are at the heart of the narrative, stirring emotion in the reader and tapping into natural feelings of curiosity or empathy. Not only does this attract attention and pull on the heart strings, but it delivers results too. There has been strong evidence that real stories really do increase fundraising income, with the persuasion science book The small BIG showing that when fundraising teams shared stories about the people impacted, rather than just the statistics, they secured more than twice the number of telephone donations.

Tailoring approaches for the local context

While many health issues cross global borders, the local context is certainly not the same. This became abundantly clear at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with only 3 in 5 people across the world having access to basic handwashing facilities, despite governments including France and the UK calling washing your hands a “simple” preventative step. It is therefore essential that the language used in awareness campaigns is sensitive to the local context and limitations.

And it’s not just what you say, but how you say it too. When adapting your communications approach, it’s also important to consider the best way to reach your target audiences. India and Brazil are WhatsApp’s biggest markets, and 97% of internet users in Kenya use the messaging service too, so it’s vital to pinpoint the most effective way of sharing messages and information for different countries.


There has never been a more critical time to ensure that the global health community is shouting loudly and clearly about these important health issues. Whilst we continue to grapple with COVID-19, we cannot afford to divert attention from issues such as cancer and heart disease and so we must work even harder to protect everyone at risk – and that means ramping up communication efforts to ensure global health stays at the top of the political agenda.

Despite the immense challenge, we’ve learnt a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic response and how we can raise all important awareness for other health issues – now it’s time to put those lessons into practice.


Get in touch to find out how Grayling can help you with your global health communications!

By Jessica Smart, Senior Account Manager in Grayling UK’s Health team.

Grayling’s 7 health trends for the post-pandemic era

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Over the past year health has taken centre stage in our lives. Now, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, it is clear that our approach to, and attitude towards, individual and collective health will have altered as a result of COVID-19. At Grayling we are positive about the opportunities that lie ahead and can’t wait to help brands and organisations navigate this new landscape.

So, what will be important in the next few months and beyond, what are the key health issues that will be facing society, organisations, and individuals? We have done the groundwork and identified seven key areas we think will be important in the post pandemic landscape:

Hybrid working

It’s here to stay. Offices are great places to connect but a degree of home working will remain. Prior to the pandemic only five per cent of people worked from home but now 40 per cent of employers anticipate regular home working. With less time spent commuting and more time in their local community what sort of new routines will people create for themselves? Local sports, physical activity and wellness could all flourish.

Remembering other diseases

Unfortunately, cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions haven’t gone away, but they have received far less attention from media, health organisations and many businesses since the start of the pandemic. We can expect to see the consequences of this widely discussed in the media, alongside a big push to renew fundraising for these causes – competition for attention will be even greater than pre-COVID, reinforcing the need for effective communications strategies.

Medical intersectionality

COVID highlighted the extent to which health is influenced by other factors; the disproportionate death toll from COVID amongst patients with pre-existing medical conditions, the poor and those coming from minority ethnic backgrounds, has raised awareness of the inequalities that exists in healthcare. Organisations which acknowledge and move to help address these factors will be key.

Doubling down on mental health

Don’t expect conversations around mental health to diminish – the pandemic brought widespread challenges for everyone’s mental health with children and young people arguably suffering the most. Addressing this will no doubt be uppermost in the minds of politicians of all persuasions.

National fitness goals

With links between obesity and risk of serious illness from COVID-19 firmly established, expect to see further government drives to curb obesity. At the same time, the debate over how best to consider the relationship between weight and health remains complicated – consumers are increasingly demanding a more nuanced appreciation of the question, beyond the traditional ‘fat = bad’ narrative, and are becoming increasingly responsive to brands and organisations which address these questions head-on.

A focus on the natural world

Spending days inside with nowhere to go has led to a collective appreciation for the natural environment. In lockdown cities emptied and people flocked to the countryside. The impact of the pandemic combined with concerns about climate change and global warming have led to demands for a ‘greener’ way of life. Will we see these trends adopted by governments and communities in ways that are truly sustainable?

Lifestyle + Health = Profit

Increasing numbers of consumer-facing brands are set to launch in the coming year with a mix of lifestyle and healthcare brand positioning. There is an opportunity for smart brand-building in this area that captures the increasingly health-focused outlook we have across all aspects of our lives and acknowledges the potential role that consumer products can plan in delivering positive outcomes outside simple product functionality.

Whatever the challenge, Grayling is an agency that’s committed to building, growing, sustaining and repairing health and health-related brands and organisations worldwide. Whether it’s supporting clients to navigate a challenging regulatory environment or creating award-winning campaigns that drive awareness, provoke thought or change behaviours, the work we do, inspired by our clients, creates advantage.

Get in touch for more information or if you’d like us to help you find ways to create advantage.

Kathryn Ager is Head of Health, Grayling UK


Grayling research reveals increasing goodwill towards pharma: But can it last? 

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As the world continues to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, Grayling launched a global report exploring how people across the world perceive the role and reputation of the pharmaceutical industry. Kathryn Ager, Head of Health at Grayling, looks at the findings and what they mean for the sector.

How is public awareness of – and trust in – big pharma companies changing as the pandemic evolves? How is the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and governments changing and what does this mean for the future of the industry? How can pharmaceutical companies improve their communication with stakeholders in the medical industry, government and the public at large?

Grayling wanted to explore these questions, so we surveyed the general public in the UK, US, France, Germany, Russia and China to investigate how their attitudes towards pharma have evolved*. We also spoke to 14 senior decision-makers within the health sector including representatives from the industry, patient groups and policy makers to gauge their views. The results of our research can be found in our latest report, ‘Emerging from Covid-19: What Next for the Pharmaceutical Industry?’ but I’d like to highlight a few standouts.

The perception of pharma has improved during the pandemic 

We observe that the public perception of pharma companies has largely been enhanced during the pandemic, especially in countries where Covid vaccine rollouts have been most successful.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) say that the pharmaceutical industry has a positive impact on society. Nearly half (49%) say they view the pharmaceutical industry more positively than before the pandemic. This was particularly evident in markets such as China, where nearly nine in ten (89%) people felt more positive towards the industry. Meanwhile, just a third (33%) of French people reported the same.

Just 14% worldwide say they feel the pharma sector has a negative impact on society. Men are narrowly more positive towards pharma overall than women.

Speaking to our expert interviewees, the consensus was largely that the perception of pharma – together with an understanding of what it does and how it works – had improved. The challenge is how to make this goodwill last.

In terms of reputation for individual pharma brands, the picture is mixed 

Has the public heard of the leading Covid vaccine manufacturers and, if so, what do they think about them? One in five (21%) people say they have heard of AstraZeneca because of the pandemic, 15% say Pfizer and more than one in ten say they now know Johnson & Johnson (11%) and Sanofi (10%).

Pfizer enjoys a healthy approval rating (60% positive) among those who have heard of the brand.  Perhaps not unexpectedly AstraZeneca is experiencing more negative perceptions, possibly due to its legal battles with the EUquestion marks over the accuracy of its data in the US and reported links to rare blood clots.

More than a third (36%) of people said what they heard about AstraZeneca was negative, compared to Johnson & Johnson (21%) and Sanofi (15%). Negativity towards AstraZeneca was highest in France (46%) and Germany (42%) but lowest in the US (nine percent).

‘Vaccine nationalism’ is strong, but it varies wildly from country to country 

There’s no doubt that Covid-19, and therefore the vaccines associated with it, have become politicised. Important national and local elections in the US, Israel, Netherlands, Spain and UK have been influenced by governments’ handling of the crisis.

Two of our interviewees, including a former UK politician, say that ‘vaccine nationalism’ is inevitable as countries look to protect their populations.

Our research finds that people in the UK were far less attached to the idea that a vaccine had to be produced in their country to be trustworthy than other countries. Just under half (49%) said it was important that a vaccine was developed in their country for them to trust it, compared to China (88%), Germany (68%) and France (65%).

Pharma has an opportunity to build on the goodwill, but must demonstrate ‘purpose’ 

The pandemic has accelerated progress towards more compassionate business models, where organisations are finding a purpose beyond purely prioritising profits. This ‘New Collectivism’ embeds greater environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibility into company culture.

This quest for a ‘higher purpose’ for pharma is reflected in the findings of our global survey. More than half (55%) said they would be more likely to trust a Covid-19 vaccine if the manufacturer had promised not to seek to make a profit from it. Women (58%) are more likely than men (52%) to trust a not-for-profit vaccine.

Changing the conversation around pharma 

While pharmaceutical companies that produced vaccines for Covid-19 have often taken centre stage over the past year, our report clearly shows there is opportunity for the entire industry to get behind this increased understanding and appreciation and use it as a force for good.   The healthcare experts we interviewed agreed that the industry now has a platform that it didn’t have prior to the pandemic. This provides a golden opportunity to discuss its research and development (R&D), highlight its solutions to wider health issues, and address traditional questions around pharma, such as access and pricing.  And those that can do this best will no doubt prosper now and in the months and years ahead.

Please click here to download your copy of our report – Emerging from Covid-19: What next for the pharmaceutical industry? 

And if your healthcare organisation needs expert communications counsel, please contact me


*Grayling commissioned Opinium Research to survey 3,000 members of the public in the UK, US, France, Germany, Russia and China.




Global health: is it time to shine?

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Throughout history, global movements to tackle the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases have struggled to cut through individual country apathy. So, it may have been a surprise to many when a new disease arrived that immediately grabbed the attention of every national leader around the world.

To add insult to injury, not only has COVID-19 ravaged countries’ health systems, it has also potentially jeopardised the fight against many global health issues – from malaria to cancer – threatening years of hard-fought progress.

Yet now, perhaps for the first time in living memory, global health has become, well, a truly global issue. Disease doesn’t respect borders and good population health affects us all, regardless of where we live in the world. With the arrival of COVID-19, countries big and small have recognised the crucial need for global health infrastructure and the value of organisations like the WHO to protect life as we know it. As Bill and Melinda Gates put it, 2020 was “the year global health went local”. The risks that disease and poor health pose to the global economy and our futures is clearer than ever – and governments are taking note.

Just last week, the U.K. government announced the formation of a new global health directorate in the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office.  According to The Telegraph, while priorities for the newly formed unit include the COVID-19 pandemic and supporting the World Health Organization, the team will also look at broader issues including maternal mortality, nutrition, sanitation and reproductive health. For Britain at least, global health presents an opportunity to showcase its global health legacy and establish the post-Brexit promise of a ‘Global Britain’.

We have also seen a number of the world’s richest countries come together to provide vaccines to low-income countries. Gavi’s COVAX programme has so far raised $6bn in donations, with countries such as France and Norway making commitments to donate surplus vaccines to the project. In yesterday’s budget, the U.K. also committed to contribute the majority of future surplus COVID-19 vaccines, in addition to its £548 million funding for the scheme.

In 2021, as countries begin to develop routes out of the pandemic, an opportunity is emerging to strengthen global health infrastructure and keep these issues front and centre for policy makers. There may never be a better time for global health communities to make their case.

While France has recently announced its intention to increase aid contributions, the U.K. has made headlines over plans to cut foreign aid budgets from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5% in response to the pandemic. During this uncertain period, cutting global health funding could prove short sighted, and result in an even greater health bill in future.

Health systems, NGOs and aid agencies around the world must capitalise on this unique opportunity to raise the profile of global health and communicate its importance. As countries rethink their budgets, priorities and values, it’s crucial the role of global health security and its return on investment is part of the conversation.

For those organisations which have weathered the COVID-19 storm, aligning their business to global health during the post-pandemic era is also a no-brainer. CSR initiatives such as the RED campaign to fight HIV/AIDS provide examples of how consumer brands can effectively take a stand on global health issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a disaster waiting to happen, and we need to be prepared for further pandemics in the future. In 2021, I hope the global health community, policymakers and the private sector can seize the moment, to effectively leverage what has been a tragic event for so many to improve health for all.

By Millie Heslam, Senior Account Manager in Grayling UK’s Healthcare team.

Health Concerns: The public is flirting with virtual healthcare – what will it take to convince them?

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The public is flirting with virtual healthcare – what will it take to convince them? Grayling’s Head of Health, Kathryn Ager, explores the latest developments.

While virtual health consultations existed well before COVID-19, like many other technologies that minimise the need for face to face interaction, their usage has soared over the past six months.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, is a big fan.  At the end of July he declared that all GP consultations should be ‘remote by default, unless a patient needs to be seen in person’.  And there’s no doubt remote consultations provide many patient benefits such as convenience and efficiency, especially when it comes to routine appointments.

However, it seems there is still some way to go until the public fully embraces this new way of accessing healthcare.  Just recently the Daily Mail reported that almost two thirds (65%) of people were either ‘very concerned’ or ‘quite concerned’ that telephone or video consultations were not as thorough as face to face appointments and might risk missing serious conditions.

Our own survey carried out this summer echoed that sentiment.  We found that while more than a third (39%) of people were happy to access healthcare remotely for common conditions, this fell to just 12% for unusual signs and symptoms, such as a suspicious lump.

This pattern was repeated when it came to meeting hospital consultants (62% preferring face to face), getting blood test results (61%) and accessing physical therapies, such as speech therapy (53%).  In contrast, people of all ages were generally more comfortable accessing sexual health services or treatment for stress related conditions such as insomnia, remotely.

While technology is less of a barrier than in the past it can still present challenges, particularly for older audiences, who represent the largest patient pool. Our survey found that 17% of people aged over 55 still do not feel confident enough to use remote technologies for their healthcare. And even younger audiences expressed concerns, albeit for different reasons, with just over a fifth (21%) of 16-24s saying they don’t trust apps to keep their data secure.

It’s likely that a hybrid model combining virtual with face to face will be the new normal.  But will more need to be done to persuade people to place their trust in technology platforms which are evolving all the time?  Previous Governments have shied away from pushing the technology and health agenda too hard.  Several large-scale IT projects have been fraught with controversy and fatally damaged by data privacy campaigners.

However, with the advent of COVID-19 times have changed.  In its first weekend of operation more than 10m people downloaded the new NHS Track and Trace app, evidence perhaps of a fundamental shift in attitudes.  Only time will tell if COVID-19 has changed our view of technology and health for good.  But if we do still need some final reassurance, there might never be a better time for a campaign that excites people about the potential and provides confidence through real life experiences to nudge people over the line.

A public appetite for change: could COVID-19 trigger a positive national conversation on obesity?

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The furore caused by the Royal College of GPs and its labelling of COVID-19 as ‘a lifestyle disease’, reported in the Times yesterday, raises some interesting questions. Kathryn Ager, Grayling’s Head of Health, shares her thoughts.

So far, the evidence indicates that if you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or certain cancers and you contract COVID-19, your chance of a worse outcome is increased. Evidence also shows that most, albeit not all, of these conditions are in some way linked to lifestyle, many linked directly to being overweight or obese. The European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control found that almost three quarters of critically ill patients in Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands were obese. In the UK, which already ranks among the highest in the world for obesity rates, being obese doubles your risk of death from COVID-19.

The exact reasons for this are unknown. It is thought that obesity may weaken the immune system; the World Obesity Federation has also suggested that obese patients are more difficult to intubate and put through diagnostic imaging (as there are weight limits on imaging machines). They are also more difficult to position and transport and health systems are not generally well set up to manage patients with obesity.

So should obesity now be considered an underlying health condition? I am certainly no doctor, but it seems to me that the evidence points to that, in relation to COVID-19. And, more importantly, it seems the public might be starting to think the same. This is hardly surprising when, for the first time, instead of simply reading about the potential dangers of obesity, people witnessed its impact on friends and loved ones during COVID-19, with many people often only in their 50s and 60s requiring hospital treatment after contracting the virus.

There was no higher profile example of this than the Prime Minister himself. At the age of 55, 5’9” and estimated to be around 17 stone, but otherwise fit and well, he turned out to be a perfect candidate for COVID-19. Post hospitalisation, it seems the PM realised this too, concluding his excess weight had played a major part in his inability to cope with the virus and exhorting others, “Don’t be a fatty in your fifties.” Since then, he has embarked on a strict exercise and healthier eating programme (including early morning PT sessions and press ups) to lose weight.

Of course, there are many other factors at play when it comes to better understanding what causes someone to experience serious complications from COVID-19. Obesity is just one of many contributing factors that researchers are looking at right now to help improve treatment in future. But given what we already know, tackling obesity will be key.

So what can corporates do to harness this changing public mood? Whether you’re a food manufacturer, town planner or leisure chain, we all have a part to play in helping address this societal challenge. Given successive Governments have found this a tough nut to crack, no doubt the current administration will welcome with open arms any thoughts that industry brings to the table over the coming months.

Perhaps for the first time in many years, there is public appetite to make tangible changes that will have a practical impact on reducing obesity levels, or at least ‘flattening the curve’. As we emerge from lockdown, which for many people has been a period of enforced physical activity and increased calorie consumption, this may be the best chance to finally press the reset button and create a healthier and happier society for all.