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MHRA to communicate better

The MHRA has published a communications strategy aimed at improving its relationship with the public healthcare professionals and the media.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has affirmed its commitment to protecting public health and communicating with healthcare professionals and the media with the publication of its Communications Strategy Summer 2005 - April 2007.

In the document, posted on the MHRA website, the agency commits to a wide array of activities it says will help it develop communications over the next 18 months.

'Get going', 'get known', 'get out there', 'get listening' and 'get trusted' form the backbone of the agency's strategy to significantly improve its current methods of communication. Within these points, the MHRA has pledged to ensure that the information it delivers is widely available; something it says it will stick to `no matter how hard it may be'.

The MHRA has outlined five areas it believes to be strategic priorities, promising to overhaul its approach to the media by pledging to 'establish robust media relations function with clear operating procedures and full out-of-hours service'. The agency has also said it will shift the balance of media relations activity towards a 40 per cent proactive, 60 per cent reactive profile - a balance some would still argue is tipped in an unfavourable direction.

In addition, it has said that in the second year of the lifetime of the strategy it will host twice-yearly receptions at which the media can meet and talk informally to senior MHRA staff.

Clear messaging

The Health Select Committee (HSC) Inquiry into the Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry took the MHRA to task over its dealings with the media and called for the agency to ensure its 'public health role and messages were understood by the public and healthcare professionals'.

It also heavily criticised the effectiveness of the MHRA in communicating, claiming that there was no patient voice - in the form of lay representation - in the advisory process.

In the wake of the inquiry, the MHRA identified the media as an effective way to communicate with patients, healthcare professionals and the public, and created a communications division. The move was welcomed by the government, in its response to the HSC's recommendations, which dubbed it a `major step forward' to have a unit that carries out 'a range of functions from handling press and public information queries to raising awareness of risk and benefit in medicines and devices'.

The MHRA went as far as to describe the media as 'a key channel of communications with the public', and also undertook to hold a focus group with lay members of the agency's expert committees, put in place a programme of contacts with patient interest groups and create a patient/public reference group to advise the agency in the early stages of policy development.

The agency also plans to facilitate a more informed debate about the risks and benefits of prescription drugs, and communicate more effectively with healthcare professionals and internally; an issue that will be tackled by revising and relaunching its website, plus a number of other less clear methods, referred to simply as 'communications'.

2nd September 2008

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