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Exclusive: Department of Health PR spend revealed

Exclusive: Department of Health PR spend revealed


Exclusive: The Department of Health has been urged to use resources more “effectively” after it was revealed that close to £18 million was spent on PR and advertising in just five months. The sum is only a small proportion of a £285 million annual marketing budget, Campden Health can reveal.  

Government data show the companies that profited most from the Department of Health’s PR and advertising spending are GroupM, Dare and Freuds Communications. 

PR company Freuds, who describe themselves as “experts in reputation protection, creation and development”, earned £770,000 from the Department of Health. 

Most of this money (£441,000) was spent on retainer fees, which ensure the government will be able to call on Matthew Freud’s PR agency for advice whenever needed. Typically, these fixed sum payments do not rely on the success of any particular campaign. 

Only one other company – MediaEdge – was paid on retainer, earning £98,000 for media planning last year. 

Over £11 million was spent with GroupM, a media management company which worked with Dare on the recent Stoptober smoking cessation campaign. A total of £1.3 million was spent with Dare, which specialises in digital advertising campaigns. The company claims the NHS will be able to save at least £41 million in health benefits directly related to the campaign.  

The Department of Health paid a total of £45,000 towards the Cabinet Office’s 24-hour Media Monitoring Unit in January, which scours broadcast media, wire services and occasionally print. 

The data were extracted from the Department of Health’s official monthly expense reports for spending over £25,000, which includes information on public health, research and development and social care spending. 

'Behavioural change'

Public Health England (PHE) took over responsibility for delivering public awareness campaigns from the Department of Health in April 2013. 

A PHE spokesperson said: “All our campaigns aim for behavioural change, but they are also evaluated against awareness, understanding and – where appropriate (i.e. symptom awareness campaigns) – clinical data.” 

Most of the marketing and PR money (£11.7 million) was spent on television advertising, public awareness campaigns and road shows for smoking, cancer and obesity delivered by GroupM. Close to £4.7 million was spent on campaigns to reduce tobacco use in the UK. January’s campaign depicting a tumorous cigarette cost the government £3.8 million alone.

Although the British Medical Association (BMA) is “supportive” of such campaigns, GP committee chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul was wary of the amount the government is spending. He said: “Given the enormous financial pressures on the NHS it is vital that resources are used effectively and provide value for money. 

“However, it is essential that public health campaigns encourage individuals to lead healthy lives, and the BMA is supportive of the government’s attempts to help people to take up eating healthy diets, give up smoking or get more exercise.”

Campaigns around cancer had the second highest spend at nearly £2.5 million. And the Change4Life scheme, introduced in 2010 to change the nation’s eating habits, cost a total of £4.2 million between January and May 2013. A total of £10.9 million has been set aside for the project in 2013/14. 

However, Change4Life’s budget has been slashed since its inception from the original three-year budget of £75 million. The campaign has been described as the government’s “marketing response” to rising obesity. 

Dr Peter Carter, Royal College of Nursing chief executive said: “It is important that government spending on public health campaigns is transparent and clearly communicated to help assess whether campaigns provide value for money and how many of the target audiences are reached.

“The NHS needs to do more to help individuals manage their health needs and this requires effective public health campaigns but also significant investment in primary care and community nursing.”


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