Jeremy Hunt, the man who became health secretary just last month, has been told by PR groups that he must hit the ground running on the big issues in the NHS.
He has had a shaky start, however, when in his first interview he said would like to see the current abortion limit halved to 12 weeks. Even though he has spoken of this before, the fact that he has said it so openly, and so early on, has caused some sections of the media to say he is out of his depth, given the sensitivity around this issue.
Speaking to PR Week Andrew Hobson, associate director at Open Road, said: “Hunt has said so little that when he does say something it’s treated as significant. [Last week’s] interview on abortion was an example of that.”
Before becoming health secretary, Hunt was responsible for media and the Olympics, but has no parliamentary experience in health, which is why the media are hanging on his every word in order to build a picture of him, Hobson says – this is why he needs to be careful.
It is also widely known that he supports the greater use of homeopathy, and campaigned in 2006 and 2007 to save his local Surrey hospital from closure, and Hobson says that people will now also focus on this, which could damage Hunt’s reputation. He believes that finding ‘a safe issue’ is going to be difficult for the health secretary.
Mike Birtwistle, MD of MHP Mandate, told PR Week that he expects a ‘regular flow of announcements’ from Hunt this autumn.
“He needs to introduce himself to the health community and the NHS,” Birtwistle added. He said that Hunt, who is viewed by many PR professionals as a good communicator, had “clearly been brought in to try to keep the NHS quiet”.
Drug pricing plans
Hunt replaced Andrew Lansley in September, who had the led the botched PR campaign to reform the health service. The Health and Social Care Act passed into law, but the former health secretary was widely acknowledged to have done a bad job at selling the reforms to both the public, and to healthcare professionals.
The most immediate task for Hunt is his negotiations with the ABPI over a new drug pricing plan, discussions of which began the very month he took up his tenure. This will certainly not be a ‘safe issue’ that Hunt can rely on, and in fact has become very messy due to the delays surrounding the possible value-based pricing scheme, and the change of health secretary just before negotiations started.